Media: Preparing a winning strategy – Managing a media crisis
As much as we all like to deal only in good news, things can and do go wrong. Mistakes, problems, slip-ups, errors of judgement, political controversies or accidents come along once in a while and with them can come the media spotlight.
If your group finds itself in the midst of a media furore the last thing that you want to happen is for an incident to build into a full-blown crisis.
Having such a crisis on your hands can cause long-term damage to your group, mainly through the loss of public confidence. This can lead to a loss of public support, fewer members, supporters, volunteers or helpers and can also hit your group's bottom line through people being reluctant to donate to your group.
Whatever the reason was for the incident, the first priority for your group is to fix it. Make sure there is no ongoing risk to the public and that there are steps in place to ensure there is no chance if the same thing happening again.
The next thing your group need to do is deal with the media and prevent a media crisis.
Prepare for the CrisisThe best way of preparing for a media frenzy is to have developed a plan on how your group is going to deal with such situations.
That way, if something does happen and the media come calling, you will have a crisis communications plan prepared.
That plan should make sure your group has:
What should you do when the media contacts you about something that has gone wrong and it involves your group?
Don't run. Don't hide.The first and most instinctive reaction for many groups, especially those not used to having the media spotlight shone on them with any intensity is to run from the situation and hide.
Simply put – don't do it.
Trying to avoid the problem, or ignore it, in the hope it will go away will not work and you risk damaging your group's good name in the process.
The reality is that the media will run the story with or without your input. So it makes good sense for you to positively influence that story by addressing the issue quickly, accurately and in a proactive manner.
What you want to do is influence the nature of that story, as much as possible, to ensure that what is run is accurate and fair. It is difficult to complain about not having your side of the story aired when you have refused to provide it.
An important aspect of any media crisis is getting across strongly and clearly that your group is doing everything in its power to address the issue.
Organisations that come out of a media crisis with their reputations intact are those that deal with the issue quickly, effectively, honestly and, just as importantly, are perceived to have done exactly that.
So how does a small non-profit organisation with no money for public relations expertise deal with the situation?
Tips on handling the media through a crisis
By recognising early on that you actually have a crisis on your hands, gives you more of a chance of handling it successfully and rectifying it quickly. The sooner you take action, the better your chances of coming out with your reputation intact.
You also need to have someone who is accessible and readily available to answer the media's questions. Your group needs to stay on top of a crisis, not create a vacuum where yours is the only voice not being heard.
Remember, you have developed a crisis communications plan for this very reason – so stick to it and you can remain calm.
Remember you are not speaking to just the media, they are a conduit to the wider public. So speak constructively, positively and frame your responses with the real audience in mind.
Also be aware that many legal advisers will advise you to say nothing at all – that advice should be questioned, if not challenged. You have to publicly address the issue; it is only the manner or amount of information that is up for discussion.
Your crisis communications plan should cover the procedure for quickly gathering accurate information about the issue at hand.
Once you have the information, it is vital that it is passed on to your nominated spokesperson and communicated through the media. The more information you can release quickly, which accurately conveys your side of the story in context, the better.
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.
Stick to confirmed information only and facts you know to be accurate and correct. If necessary, tell the reporters you don't know but will check it out and get back to them.
Don't speculate - stick to the facts and what did happen, not what might have. You can fend questions off by saying things such as "I don't want to speculate on that" or "I would prefer not to deal in hypotheticals. What we do know is ….."
If you have to use these types of quotes repeatedly to fend of questions, that's fine, the assembled media will soon realise you are not going to speculate.
This is particularly important if the problem revolves completely around a wrong or malicious story. To deal with unfounded allegations and emerge with your credibility and standing intact, it is crucial to act quickly to clarify your group's position on the matter.
Wrong "facts" left unchallenged are often more damaging than the truth.
If something has happened that has caused injury or distress, show concern and show it publicly through word and deed.
Phrases you can use instead include:
Certainly, if there is something wrong in the coverage, point it out and seek to have the record amended. If it is a serious issue you want to be seen to be treating it seriously and dealing with it
It lets them show how you are dealing with the crisis and the difficulties and problems you face, that you are human and that you have nothing to hide.
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