A big part of what we do at Provident is help companies prepare when they know a crisis is headed their way, or assist them in handling trouble when it’s suddenly upon them. Sometimes, the resulting negative media attention is warranted. Sometimes, it’s out of proportion to the misstep, and a company can find itself struggling to defend itself without coming off as petulant and indignant.
I spent years as a business journalist, as did some of my team members at Provident. One of them is even a former White House correspondent. So we’ve been on both sides of the playing field when big news breaks. We’ve been the ones shouting out tough questions in news conferences. And we’ve sat in many boardrooms, helping executives and politicians navigate their way out of sudden crises.
In our reporting years, there were times when we found ourselves a bit appalled by the “torqued” reporting by some of our media colleagues amid major scandals. The media, in fact, is not the monolithic behemoth much of the general public, or the corporate and political worlds, think it is. For example, newspaper reporters often shake their heads at TV reporters, and vice versa. Their priorities and lines of questioning are often completely at odds. Just yesterday, while training the leader of a large organization in Toronto, we explained that what a newspaper or magazine writer wants from an interview often bears few similarities to what a television or radio reporter is looking for.
We understand this nuance intimately. It is the world in which we operated for years, and it’s why our media training is second to none.
We know the way a company responds in the initial days of a PR crisis will either help protect its reputation or substantially damage its brand and eat into its bottom line, sometimes irrevocably. To say the stakes are high would be an understatement.
Staying silent is among the worst mistakes. Taking responsibility and being proactive, transparent, accountable and ethical in your response is critical.
However, even the best PR strategy can be sunk by an untrained spokesperson. Conquering your fear of the media by knowing how to talk to reporters and give them what they want is key to protecting and defending your brand. Planning for a crisis to get ahead of the story makes it a lot easier, as does sitting down with former journalists who will help you prepare for even the most unfair “gotcha” questions.
The media world runs on a 24/7 news cycle. While most of it is rich in experience, expertise, talent and balance, it is also increasingly populated by new (and sometimes dubious) outlets that lack quality control and fail to employ basic journalistic checks and balances in their reporting. As a result, it’s more important than ever that your company’s executives are prepared. One negative story, even thin on substance, can quickly act as a catalyst for a barrage of damning coverage. Not knowing what to do or how to respond could be fatal. Make sure it’s not.