Your client is filing for bankruptcy, yet the firm has a solid plan for re-emergence. How do you convince the public to give the company another chance, to continue to trust that the company can deliver value and service for its customers?
Public outreach is key: what you tell your public through the media can reassure them, calm their fears, provide explanations for what went wrong and how the problems are being resolved, and encourage new opportunities. The essential ingredient is being responsive, and providing real information while still protecting sensitive data. It’s all in how you deliver the message.
First step - put in place a proactive, strategically developed media relations plan, so that the firm is consistent, information is accurate, and spokespeople are responsive! Following are some basic ‘do’s and don’ts’ in working effectively with the media, from Sandy Evans Levine, President/Founder of Advice Unlimited, a public relations/marketing firm providing crisis communications planning, training and implementation, media training, and strategically driven public relations…
• Establish, in advance, a clearly defined media policy. Have one or two official spokespeople for the firm, and make everyone in the company aware that all media calls should be directed to one of these two people, in a particular order. These spokespeople must be credible: be sure they are trained and well informed.
• Be accessible to the media so they won’t go to other sources for news or verifications of rumors. Another element of your media policy: all calls from the media should be turned over to your public relations consultant or returned directly within 24 hours -- the quicker you can get back to them, the better (my staff and I return all media calls within two hours max).
• Treat media representatives with respect. They are (for the most part) trained professionals who are just trying to do their job – and their job is to get the story.
When talking with a reporter:
• Make a note of the reporter’s name and the name of the media when the caller first offers identification. This serves two purposes: you have an accurate record so you can follow up to see how the story appears; and you can use the reporter’s name during the interview, to help you build rapport with the reporter.
• Speak with one voice, consistently, through your designated and trained spokespeople only. Spokespeople are responsible for keeping each other apprised of any conversations with reporters, focuses of the interviews, and impressions of how they went.
• Provide sufficient evidence for your statements. Reporters love numbers: try to give them numbers whenever you can -- particularly when it helps you sell your own agenda.
• Be responsive to the reporter, and take the reporter seriously. If you don’t have the answer to a key question, tell the reporters that, and offer to find out the information and get back to them. This builds credibility, and offers you a chance to prepare more comprehensive, targeted statements for the reporter, that fits well with the focus of their article while still presenting your company in a positive light.
• Treat the reporter with respect. Approach the reporter as a highly trained professional, a “friendly adversary.” Assume they really know what they’re doing, and stay alert and prepared throughout the conversation.
• Never lie. Your firm’s credibility could be irrevocably damaged.
• Don’t speculate, or offer unsolicited comments in areas where you don’t have specific information. Such off-the-cuff comments often come back to haunt you.
• Never speak “off the record” -- there is no such thing.
• Don’t avoid returning media calls, in hopes that they’ll lose interest -- they won’t. And slow response can encourage a reporter to seek another -- perhaps less friendly -- source of information.
• Don’t debate the subject. Try to answer the reporter’s questions calmly, authoritatively.
• Don’t overreact and don’t exaggerate the situation.
• Don’t repeat negative questions or misleading words. If you repeat them in your response, they may be attributed to you.
• Don’t let the reporter state an inaccuracy without correcting it. However, be sure to correct it by stating the accurate information, in a positive manner -- don’t repeat back to the reporter the incorrect statement.
• Don’t argue with a reporter, even when provoked. You will inevitably end up making yourself look bad in print.
• Don’t make ad-lib comments. They will most likely be reported out of context.
• Don’t attempt to assess blame: rather, focus on providing positive, thoughtful responses explaining how you’re moving ahead and correcting any problem raised.
REMEMBER: Stay focused on your positive message and be responsive – help your client rebuild trust and confidence through effective media communications!