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reputation, affect an organization’s ability to conduct business, or when those
messages imply moral, ethical or legal
impropriety. When your client’s situation crosses that line, there are issues to
understand and steps to take to control
◗ Don’t dive into the foxhole. If you
don’t communicate with media immediately, consistently and often during
a crisis, you’ve already lost the war.
Being proactive is your best chance of
controlling the message.
◗ Understand the problem. Every crisis
has a root cause. Know what caused
your client’s problem in the first place
and determine what you and your
client are willing to say about it. Was
it caused by human error? Was it due
to inadequate operating procedures?
This is very important information
to a reporter. If you fumble this
question, you may never be taken
seriously by the media again.
◗ Determine a position. Who is going
to assume primary responsibility for
creating the problem? And, who is
going to take the lead in fixing it?
◗ Understand the potential fallout. If
your client’s crisis escalates, are the
consequences going to be financial,
legal, operational, relational or a
combination? Which are most damaging to your position as a professional
partner? Determine whether it’s more
important to you to recoup your
financial investment or to salvage the
relationship with the client. If you
can’t do both, which is better for you
in the long term?
Once you’ve addressed these questions,
it’s time to start communicating. Here are
some steps to recommend to your client:
◗ Designate a spokesperson. Make a
list of the most difficult questions
a reporter might ask, write down
your responses, and practice those
answers until they come naturally.
If necessary, hire a public relations
practitioner to coach you through
this step of the process.
◗ Consider different messages for
different audiences. If a company is
headed into bankruptcy, the message
to local media may need to address
such issues as plant closings and
layoffs, while the message to an in-
dustry analyst may need to focus on
restructuring plans and stock prices.
◗ Before planning a press conference
or calling reporters, have a media kit
ready. That media kit should include:
— A statement summarizing
— A press release detailing the situation
— A brochure or other collateral
material about the company.
◗ Keep a contact log, including a summary of what was discussed with
each reporter and any follow-up steps
that need to be taken.
◗ Keep a log of any stories that appear, including print, television,
tweets, blogs and other social
◗ If a reporter or blogger included erroneous information in their story,
contact them immediately and ask
for a retraction or for the post to be
removed. If a story includes defamatory information that threatens your
client’s reputation or their ability to
conduct business—and if the author
refuses to retract it or remove the
post—consider contacting an attorney who knows the law concerning
defamation and slander. Otherwise,
you could risk making a bad situation
The most important advice of all is to be
honest and transparent. Nothing threatens a positive outcome more than denying that the problem exists. A reporter
is trained to recognize camouflage, so
don’t dish any out. Now is not the time
to be slick, flippant or phony. If your
client approaches a media interview
with respect, they’ll typically get the
same back from the reporter. After all, if
a crisis hits, having a friend in the media
could go a long way in making sure your
client’s side of the story gets told.
Taking the Bull by the Horns
Several years ago, I was involved in the
turnaround of a distressed company
that supplied science-related materi-
als. One morning, the local newspaper
linked this company to a reported leak of
contamination into the local groundwater.
The public was outraged, and I knew the
situation could impede negotiations with
the secured lender and threaten the entire
turnaround. The best course of action was
to encourage my client to be proactive.
Working closely with corporate
management, we engaged the services
of a respected contamination specialist
who determined that there was no link
between the company and any contamina-
tion leak. However, we knew that a simple
denial would do little to sway public
opinion, so we crafted a different plan.
Instead of denying responsibility, we made
arrangements to have every home in the
affected area hooked up to city water—at
my client’s expense.
While this move satisfied the immediate media crisis, we didn’t stop there. We
reached out to the reporter involved in the
original story and invited him to a private
meeting with company leadership to
discuss the real situation behind the contamination leak and the company’s willingness to correct a problem that they had
not created. A few months later, we invited
him back for an “on the record” interview,
a tour and a photo shoot. He then wrote an
article that positioned the company in a
much more positive light, which ended up
on the front page of the local paper.
As the legal proceedings of the turn-around progressed, I stayed in touch with
this reporter, often contacting him prior
to a court date to encourage his presence
and to share background information
about what was going to be discussed in
the courtroom the next day. We built a relationship of mutual respect which served
the newspaper, the distressed company
and the secured lender well.
A Word from the Pros
Lenders who have been through the
trenches of media crisis management
generally agree on one thing: get advice
from the professionals. Below are some
best practices in both traditional and
social media from two practitioners who
have seen it all.