It seems that barely a day goes by without a brand making headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Crisis media management incidents can strike any organisation, no matter how big or small.
Each crisis brings its own pressures and challenges, but one thing many have in common is that they are made worse by the actions and responses of the organisation.
Oxfam, United Airlines, Facebook are among some of the huge names that have made basic errors, such as responding too slowly and saying the wrong thing, causing crises to deepen and become prolonged.
So why do we often see the same crisis media management mistakes being repeated?
Although there always seems to be a brand making headlines for the wrong reasons, crises actually don’t happen that often.
It is reasonable to assume that some members of the crisis team are likely to have no experience of being involved in a real, full-blown crisis.
And crisis planning, reviewing and testing might at best be infrequent and patchy.
This lack of experience and understanding creates vulnerabilities which can lead to errors.
The key way this can be overcome is through regular crisis comms testing where organisations are put through their paces in realistic scenarios.
The pressure a crisis media management incident brings is unique and unpleasant.
And that can lead to knee-jerk reactions, emotional responses and gut instinct replacing carefully crafted and tested plans.
It can also cause some organisations to go into ostrich mode, bury their heads in the sand and hope the whole thing blows over.
But panicked and slow responses can damage an organisation.
One of the benefits of pre-prepared brief holding statements is that they enable organisations to respond quickly and meet the media and public’s hunger for information, while at the same time creating time to analyse and better understand what has happened before going into more detail.
Media interviews during a crisis are different from those that happen at other times.
For a start they may be impromptu – door-step-interviews are a common feature of crisis incidents – and the sheer level of media interest creates the opportunity for mistakes.
If we look back on some of the biggest media interview gaffes, many have taken place during a crisis and made the situation worse. Tony Hayward’s “I’d like my life back” comment during BP’s response to the Deepwater Horizon explosion is arguably the most infamous.
Spokespeople during a crisis need to be able to handle greater pressure, be able to manage multiple interviews and media demands, cope with press conferences and door-step interviews.
And they need to be able to do this while being able to demonstrate compassion, authority and honesty and be able to connect with the audience.
All this may mean that the CEO is not necessarily the best person to put in front of the media during a crisis.
Mindset and culture can play a crucial part in crisis media management.
Organisations need to have a senior management team which is willing to listen to its staff no matter where they are in the structure. And its people need to be comfortable and confident about telling those leaders bad news.
If an organisation does not empower its people to make decisions and act quickly, then it is highly unlikely it will be able to meet the tight timeframe for responding to an incident. I’ve first-hand experience of working for an organisation where an extensive sign-off process ensured it was completely impossible to respond with the necessary speed.
Organisations that emerge successfully from crisis media management situations are typically those where crisis preparedness is seen as a crucial part of the organisation’s culture, rather than an expense which can be delayed and postponed.
A lot of organisations could avoid making crisis errors by identifying what could trigger a crisis.
One of the simplest ways to explain this is through data. Most organisations hold vast amounts of customer data.
But have they identified that as a potential risk and planned how they would respond if they were to suffer a data breach?
While an organisation may not be able to anticipate the exact shape and form a crisis might take, it should be able to narrow down the possibilities by identifying its own vulnerabilities and risks which could expose it to public attention, media scrutiny and potentially damage its reputation.
Once these have been identified, it can then plan how it would respond to each scenario and ideally put those plans to the test through simulation exercises.
Find out more about preparing for a crisis by downloading our free crisis media management eBook. 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.
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