We see it every day. A company has a public relations crisis and makes it even worse by botching the response. It’s like a watching a train wreck in slow motion. It doesn’t have to be this way. I recently asked Robert J. Fisher, a veteran public relations executive, counselor and consultant with over four decades of experience in the fields of public relations, marketing, communications and advertising, about the biggest mistakes companies make when dealing with the media.
Robert is President of Fisher & Associates, Inc. (F&A), a Los Angeles area-based public relations and communications firm which has served a broad range of businesses and industries on local, national and international levels for more than three decades. He has extensive experience in crisis communications having represented clients both throughout the U.S. and internationally who were in crisis situations. He is also a recognized media relations expert who has long served as an expert media information source and analyst. Here is what he had to say:
The critical factor here is to understand what the role of the media is in a crisis situation both from the entity’s perspective and that of the media. To the entity in crisis, the media is an invaluable conduit to disseminate information to present its side of the story and by doing so, help to reduce the negative perception that might be out there while at the same shape opinion more favorable to the entity. However, from the media’s point of view, its task is obtain all relevant and factual information it can on the crisis and provide it to its audience as quickly and thoroughly as possible. It is not the media’s job to be a “communications tool” for the entity in trouble.
Here is Robert Fisher’s list of the six biggest media mistakes that companies make:
- Timing. We live in an age of a 24 hour news cycle. The media will not wait for many hours or a day or two to get necessary information. It is critical that information be provided as quickly and as fully as possible that is accurate. This does not mean “shooting from the hip” and speculating, but providing whatever information there is when it can be verified.
- Who Speaks. This is the most critical aspect. Whenever possible, the spokesperson should be a person at the highest level, not an underling or “mouthpiece.” In a crisis situation the “top dog” can’t hide. Responsibility is at the top. If the leader of the entity is not as knowledgeable as someone else, let the most knowledgeable person speak but the leader has to be by his or her side. Also, do not let a lawyer be the primary spokesperson, it gives the perception that the company has done wrong and is already trying to protect itself.
- Where to Be. Depending on geographical considerations, it would be best if possible to address the media in any formal setting (e.g. news conference) at the site of the problem as opposed to at the corporate headquarters. Being at the site of the problem (if there is one) shows concern and empathy. Being on site has to be weighed against timeliness and the latter is more important.
- Equal Access. All relevant media should get the information at the same time and in the same manner. Giving exclusives or favoring certain media will only lead to distrust and resentment by the other media and possibly create adversaries.
- How to Communicate With Media. Every situation is different. There are many options. Release a statement or news release, hold a news conference, do one-on-one interviews, etc. Choosing the right method is very important.
- Trust. The most critical element is to establish trust with the media. This permeates everything one says and does. If the media feels it is being used, deceived, put off, not getting complete information, being secondary to other media, etc. the entity would be in an adversarial relationship with will be very detrimental to their best interests.