Monday, September 27, 2010

When the Media Comes a-Calling:

Top 3 Things not to Say—Email, Text or Tweet—During a Crisis

Amid a crisis, journalists don’t just listen for comments from the CEO, business owner or spokesperson; they also dig into the social media circuit to find digital comments that may make headlines.

Social media has become the newest way for executive leaders to proverbially stick their feet in their mouths. Take BP’s Twitter missteps for example (as referenced in Fast Company, “Not So Slick,” October 2010). BP’s Tweets made them look as if they were more committed to preserving their brand than actually helping those in the Gulf.

Proven time and time again, crisis communication in a media environment is one of the most important factors in maintaining a company's corporate image. Part of the overall perception of a company and its leadership’s credibility is how well the CEO, owner or spokesperson can internally and externally communicate a message.

Accordingly, there are definitely comments employees and stakeholders should refrain from making public during a crisis—they could be misconstrued by the media and turn one crisis into yet another.

What not to Say:

1. “No Comment”
Classically, this is a no-no. This comes across to stakeholders, the media and the audience as unprepared or even arrogant. It says that you are choosing to give no account, no information, and take no responsibility for a crisis. It tells the world you feel you are entitled to privacy, while anyone knows that high-profile business people and spokespersons do not have that privilege.

What to say:
“As details of this situation unfold, we renew our commitment to this brand, its mission and you, our customers.” This way, you acknowledge the crisis to the media, but show the world that at such a critical time, you’re keeping a cool head and making considerations for the most important things: a commitment to your company’s standards and customers.

2. “We were unaware of the situation.”
A statement such as this causes leadership to look uninformed and out of the loop. People will question: How can a CEO or business owner not know what’s going on in his or her own company? What type of leader does that indicate? It says the company isn’t taking responsibility.

What to say: “We are aggressively gathering information and looking into this situation,” is a more in-control response, without giving the media details about what you do and do not know.

3. “The media misrepresented the situation.”

Blaming the media is a copout and reactive rather than proactive. While the media does sometimes get their facts wrong, trying to play the hurt sheep only makes your corporation look like a whining child. As well, it may be your company’s lack of clear communication to the media in the first place that caused misinformation to be published. Besides, even if the facts are incorrect, the audience will likely believe what is reported.

What to Say:
“We are willfully working with media outlets to clarify and correct misinformation regarding this situation.” This type of open communication shows you are proactively managing the media instead of them managing you. It also says you are directing them in the way that will best protect your brand and actively shaping the stories that will go mainstream.

In summary, a solid crisis communication plan is like insurance for your business. Will you be covered when the media comes calling with hard questions?