By Amanda Kerr, Consociate Media Writer and Media Strategist
In the days before the Internet and 24/7 cable news, a reporter had all day to finish a story. Big news came on the 6 p.m. television and radio newscasts and replayed at 11 p.m. For newspapers, the story didn’t actually reach readers until the paper hit newsstands the next morning.
Ah, the good old days! In today’s highly digital world, the news cycle is constant, driven by immediacy, the urge to be first and the desire to maximize audience reach on website and social media platforms. So what does that mean for public relations and corporate communications?
It means managing social media, websites and mass media. It means reaching reporters for each cycle on each deadline of the day: writing for the web and social media posts while also writing for print, radio, TV and online. It means you’ve got to keep up.
Communications in a Crisis
“If it bleeds, it leads.” That’s the long-standing mantra driving news coverage. The day’s latest crisis, whether it’s a chemical fire at a plant, a security scare at a college, an airplane crash, or layoffs at a local factory, will set reporters swarming for facts, information, context and commentary.
Effective communication during a crisis is based on preparation. A business or organization shouldn’t be coming up with a crisis communications plan as the crisis is unfolding. Having systems, protocols and timelines in place long before an unfolding crisis – big or small – is the best way to prepare.
It’s imperative a business can respond quickly, accurately and effectively under duress. Knowing which audiences you need to reach, how you want to reach them, who you want to be the voice or face of your company and the type of information you’ll need to gather is essential to successfully managing a crisis.
Having prepared statements geared toward specific incidents is key. These statements are essentially templates that can be quickly edited to address the specific situation at hand and then pushed out to your website, social media and news media. These are critical to responding quickly and effectively.
If a crisis breaks internally, be ready to put out an initial statement as soon as possible. Don’t wait for a reporter to call if you can avoid it. Directly addressing a negative situation head on builds trust with the press, consumers and clients.
Should a reporter obtain potentially damaging information before you’ve had a chance to prepare an initial comment, don’t wait too long to respond. Call back within the hour if you can. Waiting to comment won’t delay the story until you’re ready. If your business doesn’t speak to the media, there’s a good chance someone else will.
Don’t expect reporters to show patience in a time of crisis. Remember, they’re under a lot of pressure to get something online so it can get pushed out on social media. Then they’re expected to update the story on their outlet’s websites throughout the day as new details become available.
But keep in mind reporters also don’t necessarily expect you to have all the answers in that first phone call or news conference. They just want to confirm the facts and offer context for how the business or organization is addressing the issue or emergency.
When a crisis is unfolding, the story is likely to change and develop throughout the day. Reporters understand that.
The primary goal of crisis communications for any business is to ensure consistency of message and mitigate negative publicity due to speculation. The best way to do that is to be honest and transparent.
Attempting to cover up the magnitude of a situation can only make a business or organization more vulnerable. The absence of the truth tends to drive others with information to the surface. A concealed fact that end up shared on Twitter or Facebook can go viral in minutes, and all that will do is make you look guilty.
Be clear about the situation. Don’t hide the bad news. Speak with empathy and sensitivity. Offer information about how the company is handling the situation and what type of services will be made available to those who are affected. If you aren’t clear on the facts of an incident or if a response plan hasn’t yet been finalized, don’t speculate or guess. It’s better to say you don’t know or that a plan is under way than to offer up information you’ll later have to take back.
While it may be tempting to breathe a sigh of relief at the end of the first day of a crisis, it’s not over. Don’t stop communicating. Continue to share updates and information on your company website and social media as well as with the news media. That way you’ll continue to have a voice in the ongoing coverage and avoid negative press due to lingering unanswered questions.
And remember to stay calm, stay confident and remain professional at all times. Managing a difficult situation with integrity is the best way to communicate in difficult times, get through it and come out stronger on the other end.