When Bad News Happens: Handling the Media During a Crisis
Bad news can happen to any organization. What do you do if you suddenly find yourself in the limelight of negative publicity? In our continuing series on handling media interviews, this issue discusses what to do when your organization has a sudden crisis and the media are at your door.
The old rule was respond within 24 hours. Media now work a round-the-clock news cycle. You have no choice but to start responding as soon as the crisis hits. Otherwise, your organization will look guilty, like it's hiding something. Plus, negative publicity is more likely to penetrate public opinion the longer you ignore it.
Leadership Must Be Visible
During a crisis, the chief executive is the spokesperson. Even if he or she has little information, the chief executive must talk to the media to demonstrate leadership by assuring the public your organization is addressing the problem. This is very important in order to protect your organizations' credibility.
Examples of what to say: "We're investigating why this happened and will provide you with the facts as soon as we understand them." "Our hearts go out to the victims and their families. We are establishing a system to keep in close communication with the families, and will provide information to the public when we have it." "We are working to understand what happened. I will provide you with updates as I get new information."
The second example above demonstrates this point. Communicating that your organization cares about the people affected will help win the public's understanding.
Be truthful about what you know and what you don't know. As was discussed in last month's "PR Tip of the Month," do not say "no comment." Never lie. You will be caught and your crisis will worsen.