A lot has been written about crisis communications.
Type the phrase into Google and it returns more than 16 million results. Put ‘crisis media management’ in there and you will see more than 7 million results.
But is it helpful to have so much information and advice available through just a few taps of a keyboard?
Well, there are certainly a few recurring myths and misconceptions contained within those pages and we find some of them are repeated by delegates at the start of our crisis media management courses.
So we have identified eight myths to bust in this blog:
Journalists are the enemy
Under the intense pressure of a crisis media management situation you could be forgiven for thinking the media are the enemy and wising they would move on to another story.
But you cannot allow those thoughts to impact your judgement.
The media is a tool you need to embrace – they have direct access to the audiences you need to reach during a crisis. In short, you need them to get your messages across to your customers.
A crisis is always a threat
The key word here is ‘always’.
A crisis can take many forms and some will tragically result in loss of life and serious injuries where the primary concern must always be the victims and their families.
But some other forms of a crisis, if managed well, present opportunities for both the organisation and the individual.
It presents the opportunity to communicated directly with customers and show them the organisation cares. It is also an opportunity to build positive relationships with journalists and show your organisation has good spokespeople.
And it is an opportunity to raise the profile of the PR / comms team and potentially progress your career.
A crisis will always damage reputations
A badly handled crisis will always damage reputations. Some will completely destroy organisations.
But a well-managed crisis can actually enhance an organisation’s reputation.
When a British Midland Boeing 737 crashed near the village of Kegworth in 1989, killing 47 people and leaving another 74 seriously injured, the company’s chairman Michael Bishop was on the scene half an hour after the accident and made himself available to press and broadcast crews, giving information as fast as he received it.
He spoke with compassion and said he understood how the relatives of passengers must be feeling because he personally knew every member of the crew and the pilot was an old friend.
The result was that a small airline emerged even stronger from the crisis. In the long term the airline became BMI and was eventually brought by Lufthansa, which sold it on for £172m.
Richard Branson is also someone with an excellent track record in crisis communication. He successfully handled the tragedy of the Virgin train crash in Cumbria in 2009, travelling back through the night from a family holiday in Zermatt to meet passengers and crew members in hospital.
He was at the scene of the incident before the cause of the accident had been determined. He described the train driver as a ‘hero’, invited press to his factory to see how safety was built into the carriages and e-mailed every customer to explain what had happened. His actions resulted in him being branded a ‘PR genius’.
The CEO should always lead the crisis response
When companies and organisations find themselves in a crisis media management situation they invariably turn to their chief executive or company chairman to front their media response.
But the most senior person is not always right person to be put in front of the media. They may be a great leader but it does not necessarily mean they are effective media communicators.
You need someone who can demonstrate compassion, authority and honesty and be able to connect with the audience.
The subject matter may also mean they may not have the necessary expertise. For example, an IT director could well be better placed to speak to the media if the crisis has been caused by a large computer system failure.
You should only have one spokesperson
You need clarity of voice during a crisis but that does not mean you should only use one spokesperson.
Some crises will naturally require you to have more than one spokesperson. If the crisis is expected to last several days you cannot possibly meet the demands of the media by just using your chief executive.
If the crisis is affecting multiple sites, consider using regional spokespeople – they can help you engage and win the trust of the audience and show a commitment and connection to the area.
‘If we keep quiet it might blow over’
Fear of negative headlines, of widespread media interest and of not being in control are usually behind the decision to try to keep things quiet.
But it is unlikely you will be able to keep a negative story out of the media for any length of time.
An employee or a supplier may say something that ends up gaining a journalist’s interest, but the biggest threat is social media, which reporters constantly monitor – 96 percent of UK journalists use social media every day and 92 per cent do so on Twitter.
The approach of burying your head in the sand and hoping the bad news goes way simply does not work.
Organisation’s which emerge from crises with their reputations intact are the ones which break their own bad news, enabling them to shape the story.
A crisis is impossible to predict
You are unlikely to be able to predict the exact scenario, but you can take a look at your organisation, anticipate its vulnerabilities and forecast potential storms on the horizon.
Think about what could expose your organisation to public attention, intense media scrutiny and damage your reputation.
Many organisations have a risk register which helps them identify vulnerabilities and these can become a key part of crisis comms planning.
Not only does it enable comms people to prepare holding statements and identify spokespeople for different circumstances, but it also gives organisations realistic scenarios to test their crisis comms plan against.
It won’t happen to us
Possibly the biggest crisis comms myth of them all. The reality is that all organisations are vulnerable to a crisis regardless of their size.
Download our FREE eBook to find out more about planning for a crisis. It includes a guide to helping you identify the right spokesperson, messaging templates and a risk register to help you identify your organisation’s vulnerabilities.
Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers.
Click here to find out more about our journalist led crisis communication training.
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