Your Partnership and the Media - Crisis Management and the Media

Things may go wrong with your community business partnership that are no-one's fault.

Mistakes, problems, slip-ups, errors of judgement or accidents come along once in a while and with them can come an unwanted case of the media spotlight.

When this occurs, it is important that your partnership is equipped and ready to handle the media and the questions they may ask.

A Crisis Communication Plan

The first way of preparing for a media whirlwind is to have developed a plan on how the partnership is going to deal with such situations.

That way, when things do happen and the media comes knocking, your partnership will have a communications plan it can rely on.

The plan, which could be developed during the setting-up of your partnership agreement, could include provisions like:
  • An appointed spokesperson or people. All inquiries should be referred to them.
  • A plan so that partnership members know who is going to speak to the media if an incident occurs. This is particularly handy for partnership members who may receive calls or inquiries from the media – this way they can refer them to the right person to talk to.
  • A way where partnership "drivers" or co-ordinators can gather as much accurate information as quickly as possible so they are kept well-informed for any media inquiries, and.
  • A way that sees accurate information quickly passed on through these spokespeople to the media.
The aims of this sort of plan should be to allow clear and accurate communication to the public – and your partnership stakeholders – through the media, as well as stopping any long-term damage to your partnership or any erosion in public confidence.

Tips on Handling the Media through a Crisis

Following are a number of tips that could help your partnership deal with any flare-up or problems in the media:
  • Acknowledge there is a crisis. If your partnership doesn't acknowledge there is a problem, how can it find a solution? By recognising early on that you actually have a crisis on your hands, you can start to rectify it.
    • Realise that:
      • The media will run the story
      • That the public will see the story, and
      • That your partnership and its stakeholders will have to address the issue publicly and, where appropriate, keep people informed through the media.
  • Be up-front. Don't hide. After you have acknowledged there is a crisis, don't hide from it, or run from the media. Sometimes it can be very tempting to stick your head in the sand and hope the problem will go away - but it won't, and ignoring it will only make it worse.
  • Stay calm. It's important you stay calm under pressure or swap places with someone who can. While anger might make good vision for TV or good copy for newspapers, it could well spell bad news for your partnership.
  • Address the public through the media. While the media will be chasing you for comment, it is the public – both generally as well as people who may have a stake in your partnership – you want to address. So keep in mind when answering the media's questions that it is the public that will be listening to the answers.
  • Talk in common, easily understood language. Speak so people can actually understand the message you are trying to convey.
  • Make first impressions count. For both the public and the media, making first impressions count is vital. If you are honest, sincere, open and committed to resolving the issue, you will project a positive impression.
  • Work out what you can legally release. If there are legal issues that come into play, be aware of where the line is drawn on what you can say. Be wary of legal advice that instructs you to say nothing at all – if you get that advice, challenge it and ask what you can say, as you need to address the issue by speaking publicly, not by remaining silent.
  • Consider what strategy your partnership would take if only one partner in the is receiving bad press - but not the partnership itself. This strategy may alter depending on whether the partner in question is involved in a controversy that could be linked to the partnership, or if it is entirely separate.
    • It may be a good idea to discuss a plan which enables both the partner caught up in a controversy separate from the partnership - as well as the other partner - to be prepared and well-briefed about what has occurred so they can quickly and fairly respond to any media queries.
    • In a situation like this, communication between the two partners is absolutely vital. Any plan developed should ensure good communication between partners.
  • Release as much as you can as quickly as you can. Your communications plan should already encourage the gathering of accurate information about the issue at hand as quickly as possible.
    • Once that occurs, it is vital that information is passed on to your nominated spokesperson/people and communicated through the media.  The more accurate information you can quickly release which puts what happened in context and gets your side of the story across, the better. And the sooner you respond and show that you are acting in a sincere, honest and reliable manner, the sooner your voice is listened to and trusted.
  • Say only what you know to be true/don't speculate. If you are asked a question you don't know the answer to, don't guess – that bad guess or incorrect information could come back to haunt you later on.
    • Instead, stick to only confirmed information you know to be accurate and correct. If necessary, tell the reporter you don't know but will check it out and get back to them.
    • Also avoid speculation. Stick to the facts. You can fend these types of question off by saying things like:
      • "I don't want to speculate on that" or
      • "I would prefer not to deal in hypotheticals. What we do know is ….."
  • Ban the phrase "no comment". Repeating this phrase makes it sound like you know the answer but just do not wish to give it. 
    • Phrases you can use instead include:
      • "All I can say is ……."
      • "I can't provide that information until I have all the details …."
      • "I can't answer that until I have a full report."
      • "I am happy to try and answer those questions once I have spoken to the right people ……."
  • Challenge information you know to be wrong. 
    • Don't leave wrong facts out there. If something is running that's wrong:
      • Let the media organisation know the information is wrong, and
      • Let other organisations know so they don't repeat it.
    • This is particularly important if the problem revolves completely around a story which is wrong or malicious. Quickly clarify your partnership's position on the matter to deal with unfounded allegations and emerge with your credibility and standing intact.
  • Show concern. If something has happened that has caused injury or distress, show concern and show it publicly through word and deed.
  • Don't blame the media. Your first priority is to address the problem at hand, not to "shoot the messenger". Blaming the media when trying to get through a crisis will not endear your partnership to the media – who you need to get your message out there and shape public perception to your advantage.
    • If you have an issue with what the media has done, raise it later, after the crisis has passed. But if a serious issue has arisen you want to be seen to be treating it seriously and dealing with it, not wasting time blaming the media for bringing to light an incident involving your group.