There are two main aspects to every crisis situation that receive media attention: the initial event and then how it’s handled. As seen in the news lately, it can be easy for a crisis to spin out of control. United Airlines is a prime example.
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend a crisis media training session for a client. During the training, I learned some key techniques communicators can use to help companies focus on their key messages, give them control of the situation and to avoid pitfalls during interviews.
Put your main message first
Time is of the essence in responding to almost any crisis. When crafting messaging, make sure the most important information is highlighted. Clearly and concisely lay out
the one thing you want everyone to remember. It’s crucial to start with your key message.
When answering questions, always keep your messaging in mind. You can always come back to it with one of these techniques:
- Bridging: The use of transitional phrases to pivot during an interview, or using the message to shift discussion to facts that answer the question.
- Flagging: Alerting the interviewer that you’re about to say something important. For example, “Let me put that into perspective…”
- Hooking: Using an aspect of the reporter’s question to lead the reporter back to your key messages. For example, “I’m so glad you asked because...”
When creating your messaging, keep in mind your audience, which is not the journalist or an industry expert. Use common, accessible language. When interviewing for TV, look directly into the camera. Show that you’re human! Demonstrate empathy for the situation and be sincere.
Whether you’re being interviewed on camera or hosting a press conference, it’s important to remember that you are in control of the situation.
If a journalist or reporter reaches out to you for a story, it’s okay to ask what the interview will be about. Just think, you wouldn’t go to a job interview without knowing what the position is for –the same applies to interviews with the media. Find out when the reporter’s deadline is so you know how much time you have to prepare.
During the interview, avoid using filler words or repeating yourself. There’s no need to answer in complete sentences; this separates your message further from the question. Plus, you don’t want to forget your answer due to nerves or getting caught up in the question. It’s important to not repeat the question when it is negative. Instead, give short and concise responses.
Remember that any video can be edited, taken out of context, or used by another journalist. Avoid saying things like, “As I already said to ‘the reporter’s name.’” Whether your interview is for print, TV or radio, play it safe by assuming everything is on record and that microphones are on.
Your press conference should have both a time frame and a purpose. Remember that you invited the media to come talk with you in the first place, not the other way around. This is your opportunity to communicate your story. Don’t get forced into choosing between an A or B situation.
Take the time now to plan your communication flow and designate a spokesperson, in the event of a crisis. You and your team can prepare by brainstorming possible situations and identifying the appropriate messages to share. Having a crisis communications response plan prepared and in hand will benefit everyone involved.
Knowing you are in control of a situation during a crisis can give you the reassurance you need to be a more effective crisis communicator. Download our free crisis communications guide!
Catherine is an account associate at WordWrite Communications. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org