Sooner or later, every company will be faced with a crisis that has the potential to damage its reputation. Sometimes this crisis can be contained in-house; more often than not, and especially in today’s 24/7 media world, news of the problem leaks rapidly to the media, which has the power to destroy the most carefully nurtured company image almost overnight.
For the many businesses that work with hazardous materials or processes that can be dangerous to the environment and people, the risks of an accident that leads to a crisis can be proportionately greater than, for example, service businesses. Yet even here there is potential for risk, as companies may need to deal with redundancies, malicious employees with a grudge to bear or the acquisitive attentions of predatory competitors.
Despite the plethora of books on the subject, the crisis management process is simple and can be encapsulated by two simple sentences: be prepared and don’t panic.
Although both these pieces of advice sound like basic common sense, it is often the lack of an objective perception of the situation that can turn a manageable crisis into a full-blown drama.
A badly handled communication crisis can have such severe effects that in extreme circumstances corporations have had to re-invent themselves and re-brand to avert a reputation freefall. In an odd way behemoths like car and oil companies (think of the adverse publicity given to BP following the Gulf of Mexico oil spills, for example) are the least adept at dealing with crisis effectively.
Crisis management strategy relies on a two-pronged approach embracing internal as well as external communications. You cannot have a well thought out plan without giving proper attention to both of these aspects.
It is easy to understand why internal communication is as important as external in ensuring that consistent messages are communicated. Most of your workforce will have access to social media channels. Even if your company blocks these channels internally, people have smartphones that are totally independent of your internal filters. Without a proper communication plan, information will be transferred externally before you can reach for the forgotten ‘Crisis Communications Plan’ that you may have produced a few years before and squirreled away in one of your company’s computer drives.
Don’t allow your crisis plan to lay forgotten – review it frequently and be ready to implement it in an instant.
Crisis situations often have the habit of occurring outside normal hours. It is therefore essential that you have a procedure in place for dealing with such situations, either by allocating senior staff to an on-call press rota, or by ensuring that there is someone to take calls and route enquiries to the appropriate spokespersons. Poor access to information outside normal working hours can scupper even the best laid plans.
The cardinal sin of crisis management
Your internal crisis communication plan must rely on well-informed individuals whose duty is to ensure that absolutely everyone in your company is kept up to speed on the crisis and given key facts about the situation. If facts are not provided, it is human nature to speculate and there is nothing more damaging to a crisis situation than having to deal with speculation – the cardinal sin of all mismanaged communication campaigns.
Your ability to prevent speculation is based on the speed with which you can respond to the crisis. If you have rehearsed (be prepared!) and cleared your decks, you can engage with both your internal and external audiences quickly and efficiently, aiming always to be one step ahead.
Train and rehearse
External communications are somewhat easier to handle, particularly if you have a plan or rely on a specialist service. Despite this, the world of PR crisis management is littered with examples of bad practice. It is a fact that often fundamental errors in crisis communications can be caused by Senior Managers not having had experience of dealing with the media. It is therefore vital that you either train your Senior Executive in this area of communications, or (particularly if don’t have resources) rely on appointed experts and spokespeople.
Whether you have an internal or external spokesperson it is absolutely vital to be totally honest and transparent with them, providing as much accurate data as possible. Never forget that speculation can often destroy a well thought out plan.
Be in control
Dealing with the press can be a daunting experience even for the most street-wise operators. During a crisis you will not have the luxury to rely on the well thought out press release. When the media knocks at your doors they expect answers. Anodyne statements like ‘no comment’ are of no use. Indeed, by using such tactics you are implicitly telling the press to go elsewhere to find information about you.
So, the key point is to be in control. There may be stages during a crisis when the press becomes hostile, particularly when conducting interviews. Your spokesperson’s aim should be to think about the audience at all times. After all, a journalist is only there to convey a message to an audience. You need to consider each audience and tailor your message accordingly. Never forget that behind the term ‘audience’ there are individuals like you, so your message needs to be humane and approachable, not distant and mechanical.
Journalists have an array of subtle tricks to encourage a naive spokesperson to speculate. Use of the conditional (“Would you say…”) is a favourite tactic, followed by silence. Yes, silence. In such a situation it would be easy to try and elaborate on the message, to fill the gap; almost certainly this will lead to the unplanned release of information that is counter-productive.
When faced by silence, focus on reinstating the points you have just made.
Some journalists are adept at making a spokesperson feel comfortable and relaxed. The inexperienced speaker may be lulled into a highly dangerous trap from where there is no return. In extreme cases you will be faced by other tactics such as the ‘Yes and No’ game (that is, you are asked to reply with either an affirmative or a negative). In these instances your duty is to politely bounce this back. You may have to repeat yourself, but this is fine, provided you do so calmly and engagingly. Interruptions are another favourite. In this instance, just keep calm and in control (but avoid looking smug).
The arsenal of journalistic tactics is almost endless, which is why without preparation or the support of a specialist you will easily fall foul of these basic tenets, creating a worse situation than the one you wanted to avert.
So, don’t underestimate a crisis, don’t be complacent, but be prepared and you will be fine. Omit these basic rules at your peril.
Posted by guest, Maurizio Fantato, member of EVOKE PR Network.
Some interviews are just disasters waiting to happen. There were times when I channel-surfed to a news program only to catch a CEO interview and cringe. Really I have to wonder, “what was he thinking?’ or should I say out loud, “what was he thinking!!!!!” Pardon the punctuation, but you get my point…
Brand specialists and public relations experts are always creating list after list of things that could go wrong. And this is all well and good except for the fact that the focus is usually on the mistakes their clients make. Bad cover-ups, poorly handled crises and failed publicity stunts all have their place on the lists.
There’s no worse feeling than watching your client freeze in response to a question on live TV or say something he really shouldn’t. Some mistakes your clients make in media interviews have the potential to damage, rather than enhance, their profile in the media. It’s the role of PR professionals to fully train their clients to reduce the chance of insulting journalists or getting negative coverage in the media.
When you really think about it, the person in most control in an interview setting is the interviewee and not the interviewer. That’s because the person being interviewed holds the information that the interviewer needs. Many organizations find that media interview skills training can ensure their spokespersons can fully capitalize on interview opportunities and avoid missteps.
Here are some tips to keep in mind when preparing your clients for interviews:
Do your research
Make sure the media outlet is one that is in line with your client’s goals – one that will offer the best possible coverage. Provide the interviewer with relevant background material – information about the company, biographies, facts and figures, success stories, etc. In some instances, you can also suggest questions to ask your client, if appropriate, or if it comes up during your discussion with the journalist.
Aim to fit (the angle)
Nothing good will come, if you’ve prepped your client on a specific set of questions, and all the interviewer wants to cover is another angle. It’s always best to get a list of interview questions ahead of time so that you can determine where the story is heading and prepare accordingly.
Rehearse the talk
Preparing talking points for your client is the best course of action. This is critical, especially if there is something your client needs to answer in a specific way and avoid leaving out any details. Rehearsing these talking points with your client will help you and the client to anticipate questions and respond with confidence.
Keep it short
There is always a tendency for the client to go on and on and most times, this is not a good thing. For one, it may come across as rambling or even worse you risk taking the interviewer to places you don’t want him to go! This is an important thing to remember especially when dealing with a crisis. Best for your client to stick to the talking points agenda.
Visual impact matters
For on-air interviews, visual impact matters! Do make sure your client is dressed in his “interview best.” Avoid clothing that is white, black or any extremely busy patterns that tend to distort and create fuzzy patterns on the camera. For women, keep your accessories simple and men should wear solid plain ties as these capture better on film and in photos.
A little courtesy goes a long way. Always be polite and thank the interviewer/media for the opportunity and get a clip for your client.
Review and learn
Whether it’s a TV or print interview, do make it a point review the feature. If it turns out well, strive to do better, if it doesn’t, then there is always time to learn and re-adjust for the next one.
Do you have any tips for media interviews, or any success or disaster stories to share? We would love to hear from you!
You know the immense disappointment and annoyance you are liable to feel after sending your friend a long text message only to receive a one word reply? An amplified version of that is probably what a journalist feels whenever somebody responds with a “no comment” to a question! Of course, in this case, a lot more is at stake not only for the journalist tasked with a story to cover, but also for the person responsible for making the remark!
Perhaps there is information that cannot be disclosed, perhaps the question posed is something beyond the interviewee’s scope of knowledge, or the topic of discussion is irrelevant to the matter at hand. Or perhaps it’s just a case of clamming up at the last minute under pressure. There are many reasons that may or may not explain why a person would utter those dreaded words.
The most dangerous thing that could happen when responding with “no comment” is that the situation may be taken out of context. Nobody would want the journalist to think that there is something to hide nor would the air of dishonesty do anyone any favours – make a journalist unhappy and be prepared to face the consequences. So how can we avoid such unnecessary suspicion?
Quite simple – Turn up prepared!
If the interview questions were not already furnished before hand, try to anticipate potential or likely questions, and spend some time thinking about delivering the best answer in the best possible way. By planning ahead, responses can be worked on. Besides preparing content, the interviewee would also be able to gauge the amount of time to spend on each answer and establish an appropriate pace to ensure that they are articulate and audible. Areas with insufficient information or inadequate explanations could be worked upon further.
And when you think that you are prepared, prepare some more.
Have reports, statistics, data or visuals that is worth sharing on hand – It is beneficial to have background information on current events relevant to the topic. Chances are, the journalist will be pressed for time and questions would be fired at the interviewee rapidly to ensure that as much information can be extracted within the stipulated (or less!) time frame. Fumbling around and grasping at things to substantiate the answer would not only make the interviewee look unprepared and flustered but it can also be a trigger to making the dreaded comment.
With all these in place, just remember to ANSWER THE QUESTIONS. Like comprehension exercises everyone had back in school, it only counts if the questions are answered. Otherwise, wouldn’t the whole exercise of having the interview be pointless? If the answers provided are satisfactory, there would probably be less unplanned questions asked. Even when armed with well-oiled weapons, curveballs could still be thrown at the poor, unsuspecting interviewee – but at least what has been prepared for can be executed seamlessly. So it is always good to plan things to say, even if nothing can be said. Here’s how:
Always be honest!
If there is only the truth and no lies, there would be fewer things to keep track of. Should the interviewee be unable to provide sufficient information or address a question, be forthright about it. Do not try to dodge questions – it is the journalist’s job to press the question and it is the interviewee’s job to provide answers and insights. The very least thing to do when faced with an unanswerable question is to explain why it cannot be answered.
Replace the negative with the positive.
If faced with a less than pleasant situation or question, offer a substitute. If the interviewee is not able to address the question at hand, offer another nugget of information that may be worthy of attention or veer the conversation in a direction that is more comfortable. Use phrases like “I cannot provide you with such information but what I can tell you is …”
Make alternative arrangements.
Perhaps an opportunity for a follow-up could be arranged; this could be via a phone call or an email or perhaps another interview. It is also advisable to provide contacts or sources where further information pertaining to the interview can be obtained.
These may all seem pretty obvious and simple but sometimes under pressure, things just slip our minds and that is completely alright. Like with most things, interviews get better with experience. Here’s to charming your way through an interview. March forward with confidence and may you never have to utter those terrible twos ever again!
One of the toughest skills to master is the art and science of crafting a memorable speech. Penning a persuasive prose takes lots of blood, sweat and tears. For many of us though, the appeal of writing a speech falls somewhere between getting a speeding ticket and filing your tax returns.
Still nervous? Speech writing can do that to you. Perhaps you’ve lived with the idea that you were never good with words, and worse, you feared being judged or ridiculed – we’ve all been there at some point in our lives.
Writing a speech is as straightforward as learning to read out loud. The key to writing good speeches lies in using a theme. It is important to decide who will make up your audience. Your perception of the audience shapes the tone of your speech. Speech writing is very personal, as the writer talks about his views, thoughts and emotions. The writer and/or the presenter should capture an audience’s interest with the first or second sentence of the introduction.
A good speechwriter has to envision a goal that he wants to reach with his speech. Being clear and being able to communicate in words that transition easily from one thought to the next will go a long way to impress your audience.
Like anyone who has been involved with crafting a speech, I have had moments when I was at a loss when it came to finding that perfect phrase that “made” my speech. Writing a speech is by no means for the faint-hearted, the shy or the meek. Speeches are all about clarity, structure and seizing the moment.
While speech writing may seem daunting, its rewards make up for all the uncertainties of the writing process.
Here are some tips to help you along:
Know your subject matter. – Ask yourself these questions. Have you done your research? Do you know what you are talking about, and does it have a purpose to the end matter?
Who’s listening? Who will the speaker be addressing? What are the concerns and cares of the people listening? Is there an “elephant in the room” that you need to consider? You must know who your audience is in order to best decide how to affect your message on them.
Keep it short. Since the attention span of most people is rather short, a long speech can take your audience on a one-way ticket to snoozeland. You will lose your listeners if your speech is too long and monotonous sounding. Keep it short and succinct with an added punch.
Use imagery. People remember things when they see images. Using imagery helps to retain the content of your speech and the message you want to get across. Imagery will also keep the audience entertained.
Use famous lines. Reference brings with it many ideas and emotions associated with famous people or life-changing events. You can quote famous lines that reference the Shakespeare, poetry, songs, books, and other speeches. These references bring a lot more with them than just the phrase or quote you use, especially if your audience is familiar with it.
No bombs, please! Keep it simple – don’t use bombastic words. A great example is President Obama’s speeches. His speeches are always written in simple English. When messages are made simple, they cut deeper and have more impact.
End strong. The final impression you make on the audience is the one they will remember. Conclude well. End with a line people will remember, or one that contains the message you want them to remember. Aside from the opening, the ending is the most important line.
Skillful speech-makers are familiar with their written content. The principles for writing effective speeches are the same, whether for a personal speech at a wedding or a high-powered presentation by a politician or celebrity. A well-written speech can drive sales, deepen commitment, motivate hearts and minds, and even change the world.
Cecelia Haddad, Evoke PR Network
In the world of news there are a multitude of sins that can have an adverse effect on the person being interviewed and/or the organisation they represent. Some sins are worse than others but regardless they will all lead to a bad experience that could leave a reputation in tatters.
Below are seven of the most deadly of all sins when it comes to television interviews.
1. Sloth – The avoidance of any work
Going into an interview without any research on the journalist, the program or who watches it. It’s like kicking a goal and having no idea where the post is. We’ve seen it before unfortunately… The interviewee says little of interest to the audience or has lost them through jargon and irrelevant information.
Penance: Do (or delegate someone else to) research past programs, watch a few, get an idea of the host’s tone and that of the program, then formulate your messages accordingly.
2. Gluttony – Overindulgence
This takes the form of going on and on about yourself and/or your organisation without consideration for what the audience might be interested in.
Penance: Find a medium between what you want to say and how it is relevant to the audience watching. Give the audience something over and above product/service information that will leave them feeling informed.
3. Wrath – Anger and/or uncontrolled feelings of hatred
Getting heated in an interview – no matter how hostile the question – is a really bad look – it says ‘guilty’, ‘defensive’ and nothing good about your personality for the audience to relate to.
Penance: Develop and practice answers to the questions you don’t want to be asked. If you are prepared well enough, then you will be in control when the tough questions are asked.
4. Envy – Resentment of what others have
This is slamming the competition and being negative about what others are doing. Penance: Practice talking about your strengths and how you are different from others without the need to point out their flaws.
5. Lust – An inordinate craving for the pleasures of the body
You want your 15 minutes of fame and you don’t care how you get it – so you call yourself an expert when the truth is you aren’t an expert at all. You get asked a question you have no idea about but you answer it anyway.
Penance: Only agree to speak about what you know and let the journalist know your areas of expertise in advance. If during an interview, you are asked something you don’t know, then be honest and tell the journalist exactly that.
6. Greed – Desire for material wealth
You have just forgotten the rule of PR, which is to ‘make aware or inform’ not sell. You are so caught up with your sales spiel you didn’t realise that the journalist and the audience has just switched off and you will most likely never be invited back to be a guest.
Penance: Develop a conversational language style which allows you to talk with your audience not at them.
7. Pride – Excessive belief in one’s own abilities
The original and most serious sin of all. It is the belief that you are so good at what you do that you don’t need any help. You may know your topic but if you have not had extensive experience or training in being interviewed you could do irreparable damage to yourself and your organisation.
Penance: Get professional media training. Don’t ask your work colleagues to do it they will be too scared to tell you the truth. Get outside help and do it BEFORE you do the interview.
About our Guest Blogger, Cecelia Haddad, Evoke PR Network
Cecelia is a partner of the Evoke PR Network. She has been in PR and Marketing for over 20 years. Cecelia has worked with some of the most recognized brands in Australia and her expertise lies in developing a long term vision and strategy for clients with an inherent consideration to meeting overarching business objectives. She is currently Chair of the Registered Consultancies Group (NSW) which is part of the Public Relations Institute of Australia. For more information, check out www.evokepr.com. *This article first appeared on www.evokepr.com/blog