Double, double, toil and trouble. Fire burn and crisis bubble.
Alright, we changed that line, duh. But today is Halloween, and crises are scary AF for business owners and their brands, especially when facing a press conference and news media anxious for answers. What should you say?! How do you make amends? Making them all happy is a little more complicated than setting out a bowl of candy, but we’re here to help you navigate interactions with the media in the midst of a crisis.
And with crises unravelling constantly in the news (and a fairly hostile White House press team setting the tone in their interaction with the media) now seems as good a time as ever to talk about how to engage with the news media in the midst of a crisis.
Practice your messaging. Even if you’re in the middle of a crisis, pull your media relations team together and talk through messaging points before you go on stage for the press conference. Messaging points include what you know of the situation so far (that your legal team is down with you speaking publicly about), your empathy for the victims, and your plans for restitution, if you know yet what that looks like.
Don’t be rude. It can be easy to feel defensive if a reporter is shouting questions at you (especially if you know that the truth of an incident is less dramatic, or less black-and-white, than the scenario the reporter is describing). But optics are crucial, and members of the media are just doing their jobs. So remain calm and don’t get hostile—because hostility isn’t going to help win reporters’ audiences over.
Get your biggest champions—ideally people who have genuine credibility with the media—to tell your story to media. The efficacy of this tactic depends on the crisis; for example, Donna Karan’s defense of sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein was not well-received and forced Karan to apologize. But for some crises, having your biggest, best-known cheerleaders come to your defense can make a difference in public perception, and can give media additional sources that help tell your story.
And lastly, a tip we share often with regard to PR and social media: be human—both with the media you’re dealing with, and with regard to the message their reporting will bring back to their audience. Empathize with victims (real or perceived) via your words and actions toward reporters.
Bottom line? In handling a crisis, the only thing that’s scarier than the crisis itself is making it worse through hostile, defensive behavior.