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What do you do if a reporter calls?
The short answer: Breathe. Think before you speak. Stick to your talking points. Don’t ramble.
Try this decision tree of things you need to do if a reporter calls. It’s like a high-stakes version of a Choose Your Own Adventure book.
Answer the following questions and see where they lead you.
1. Was this something you planned for?
Yes? Great job! (Jump to No. 2.)
No? Oh, no! It’s best to be prepared, but these things happen. (Jump to No. 5.)
2. Do you have a spokesperson?
Yes? Direct reporters to that person. Make sure to follow your media training protocol and don’t go off-script. (Jump to No. 3.)
No? To have a unified message, you need a designated spokesperson who’s been media-trained. Select who’ll be most credible, effective and reassuring. (Jump to No. 4.)
3. Is your staff trained on whom they should direct the media to?
Yes? You’re off to a great start. (Jump to No. 6.)
No? Even if you have a designated spokesperson, if your staff doesn’t know, it does no good. Without a source of information, the media will grab anyone they can for comment. This means you run the risk of the story going in a direction you don’t want. (Jump to No. 9.)
4. Do you have standby statements in place?
Yes? Great, but you aren’t done yet. These are only placeholders and will need to be tweaked or updated as the situation evolves. (Jump to No. 6.)
No? Time is of the essence. Figure out your goal and talking points, fast. (Jump to No. 9.)
5. Can you quickly assemble your crisis team?
Yes? You’re ahead of the curve. Everyone must know their roles and work together seamlessly. (Jump to No. 6.)
No? If a member of the team is out of pocket, find their alternate. If you don’t have a team at all, you’d better build one, fast. Generally, a crisis team includes the CEO, COO and CFO; an in-house or outside general counsel; an in-house communications person and outside crisis communications consultant; human resources; the head of IT or an outside IT security consultant; and an insurance agent. (Jump to No. 8.)
6. Do you have all the facts?
Yes? You’ll almost never have all the facts, especially not in the early stages. Situations are constantly evolving. You must be flexible, and you have to keep people updated as more facts become available. (Jump to No. 10.)
No? Never say or do things based on half-truths or misinformation. Buy yourself some time while you gather facts. The best way to do that is to say, “Let me check on that and get back to you,” or “We’ll keep you updated as more facts come in.” (Jump to No. 7.)
7. Are you considering saying ‘no comment’?
Yes? Saying, “no comment” makes you look guilty. Sometimes you don’t want to (or can’t) disclose information. But there’s always something you can say or do to make the situation better, or at least less bad. (Jump to No. 8.)
No? Excellent! Tell your story on your terms. (Jump to “How’d you do?”)
8. Do you need to buy yourself more time?
Yes? Sometimes this is necessary while you gather the facts. Don’t spread misinformation just because you feel the need to say something. Stick to your standby statements or talking points. (Jump to No. 4)
No? You need to stay ahead of the story and control the narrative. Grab your standby statements or talking points and keep your stakeholders informed as updates roll in. (Jump to “How’d you do?”)
9. Do have a specific goal you want to achieve?
Yes? Make sure that your talking points support this goal and that you stick to them. (Jump to No. 10.)
No? It’s always best to know where you’re heading. Select the two to three talking points that best support that goal and stick to them. (Jump to No. 5.)
10. Did the reporter get through to the spokesperson?
Yes? Grab your talking points and remember to breathe. You’ve got this! (Jump to “How’d you do?”)
No? Reporters are usually on a tight deadline. If they left you a voicemail, make sure you get back to them promptly. (Jump to No. 11.)
11. Have more than 15 minutes elapsed since the reporter tried to reach you?
Yes? The window for telling your side of the story is closing fast. It’s common for a reporter to have already written the majority of their article by the time they call you for a quick comment to insert before publishing. If you don’t respond in time, you run the risk of them reporting that you “could not be reached for comment.” You’ve lost your opportunity to tell your side of the story. (Jump to “How’d you do?”)
No? Since reporters are usually on tight deadlines, you still have a chance to tell your side of the story. Grab your talking points and call the reporter back. (Jump to “How’d you do?”)
How’d you do?
What you say and do during the first minutes — and certainly the first hour — of a crisis is crucial. It sets the tone for everything that follows. If you lose control during those early stages, you face an uphill battle to get it back. The damage you suffer can be severe.
A study of board members attests to this: 70% said it took more than a year to restore the corporation’s reputation, and 69% said it took as long to restore financial performance.
It’s always best to be prepared before a crisis occurs or a reporter calls.
This includes designating a spokesperson and making sure everyone knows where to direct all media inquiries. You must have standby statements ready beforehand and you must be flexible enough to update them as the situation evolves.
July 1, 2019 at 08:00AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs