The Australian Small Business Blog

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

What to do when the media ask questions

By Stuart Evans

It's not uncommon for a business to have a crisis. Internal situations can spiral out of the control and before you know it, the media are asking questions.

Think of a crisis and small to medium sized businesses may not automatically believe that they have to prepare for such an emergency. But what if something goes wrong and your company receives some bad publicity? The importance of a good communication plan can mean success or failure.

A communication plan should feature a section on crisis communication and the steps to take if such a situation should arise. These steps will include a brief script to recite to the media if, and when, a journalist calls. No longer is it acceptable to mumble “no comment” and hope the situation disappears.

The best advice is to take the journalist’s details, ask them their deadline, and then promise to call them back within an hour. Your next step must be to look at what the company response will be.

The basic rules for handling the media involve the following:

· Never lie or embellish the facts. You will be found out.

· Decide the company position and brief all staff on the procedures to be followed, should they be contacted by the media.

· Ensure the company spokesperson is a high-ranking member of staff. The media will not be satisfied if statements are issued by PA’s or Assistant Managers. This also ensures that the public see that the company head is responding to the situation.

· Appreciate the journalist’s deadline and ensure you have given them your response by this time.

· Ensure your statement to the media gives them as many accurate facts as possible. Obviously, you will not want to give them every single detail, but ensure that whatever information you pass on is accurate and relevant.

· If your company is doing something to rectify a negative situation, be sure to explain it.

· When the problem is fixed, alert the media. Don’t assume the media will automatically pick up on the fact that the problem is solved. Remember, the media love sensationalism, and as such you may have to factor into the PR/Marketing budget a ‘relaunch’ advertising campaign.
· Ensure steps are undertaken to make sure the issue does not arise again.

Hopefully your company never finds itself needing this advice, but by having an awareness of the ‘what if’’ situation means that you can be a little more prepared should the unthinkable occur.

Stuart Evans is the Director of Vibe Communications

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