Facing the media during a crisis media management situation can be a stressful experience for spokespeople.
Journalists are likely to be more demanding than ever in these circumstances as they aim to bring their audience breaking news.
But what if we told you there are just three types of questions you are likely to face?
No, that’s not a typo.
And you can forget about the list of ‘75 questions commonly asked by journalists during a crisis’ which you can find on Google, because apart from anything else, in the fast paced environment of a crisis you are simply not going to have enough time to prepare and practice that many responses.
Here are the three most important questions that we think you need to prepare for to best manage a media crisis…
1. What happened?
This is an obvious question and it is one which gives the spokesperson the opportunity to provide as much factual information as is known at that stage. Locations, numbers of people impacted and any causalities should all be included here.
If the full picture is still emerging, be honest with the reporter and tell them you will come back to them when you know more.
The key here is to get some compassion and humility into your response and show the audience, your customers, that you care.
Phrases like ‘deeply sorry’ and ‘deep regret’ are useful here – but speak from the heart – don’t become a cliché.
2. What are you doing about it?
This is a crucial question because it is an opportunity to show what the organisation has already done and what action it will be taking to resolve the situation, help victims and prevent something similar happening again in the future.
If it is a crisis where people have been injured, show how you are helping those people and their families.
If the crisis is, to give another example, large loss of data, highlight how you are assisting the victims of the theft.
What action you are taking is a key component of any strong crisis media management response and forms part of what we refer to on our courses as the C.A.R.E technique. This stands for Compassion, Action, Reassurance and Examples.
3. The speculative questions
There is then a whole range of questions a journalist may ask during a crisis which a spokesperson, particularly in the early stages, is unlikely to have the information to answer.
Common question include ‘why did it happen?’; ‘how did it happen?’; ‘who is to blame?’; and, ‘could this have been avoided?’.
And all these questions can lead a spokesperson into speculating on causes and repercussions, which could cause more damaging headlines and a deeper reputational crisis.
Journalists love to speculate about the future because they are always in pursuit of a new angle to take a story forward. But this is particularly hazardous territory for organisations during a crisis.
The key for spokespeople when facing these questions during a crisis is to stick to what they know about the incident rather than commenting on what might have happened or potential consequences.
‘I don’t want to speculate on that’ or ‘I’d rather stick to the facts that we know at this time’ are perfectly adequate responses here and the spokesperson can use them to bridge back to a key message they want to reiterate.
Facing the media during a crisis is undoubtedly tough, but knowing the types of questions spokespeople will face and need to prepare for will make it less daunting.
Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers.
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