This post originally appeared on Newswire.ca
“Not speaking doesn’t mean there won’t be a story,” said Barb Glen, livestock and Alberta editor for The Western Producer. “By not speaking or making anyone available, you are left out. That can be very damaging to your company.
Glen, the paper’s former editor in chief, is an award-winning editorialist. She has written on the problems that arise when the right spokespeople do not speak to the news media. She advises to choose your spokesperson according to the need at hand. While it may be tempting to keep your CEO out of the spotlight, the buck does stop with them, so they should be willing and able to step up when needed.
“So much depends on the scope of the situation,” said Glen. She has covered several stories where the situation was so far-reaching, and so dire, “that certainly the CEOs should have been front and centre from the get-go. The fact that they weren’t did a lot of damage.
“If it’s a minor incident, then you should designate a spokesperson who is well versed on the situation,” Glen advised. Often this is a technical expert who is comfortable speaking to media, or department head responsible for the area of concern.
Regardless, journalists will want constant access to your spokesperson, so plan accordingly.
“If it’s a big issue, journalists will be calling all day, possibly for days,” said Glen.
Getting ready for the media
Glen offered a list of things to prepare for, and be aware of, in case of crisis:
1. The longer the story is in the public eye, the more necessary it becomes to provide back-up information. A journalist will do the breaking story, and continue with follow-up stories that require more details, said Glen. For example, journalists will want to know the company’s history, its location, the make-up of the board and corporate suite, and the number of employees. Provide a backgrounder with this information.
2. A strong website is important, including an up-to-date, comprehensive “about” page, said Glen. It can help fill in the gaps.
3. News releases are helpful in providing the corporate response. Check your boilerplate and contact information if you haven’t reviewed the template in a while. Be sure to include phone numbers “of people who are actually there,” said Glen.
4. A news conference and photo opportunity at the site of the situation is useful, while also demonstrating your willingness to communicate. If you can’t take reporters onsite, find another way to get images out to the media as quickly as you can.
5. Don’t provide your news release on Friday at 5 p.m. “That seems to be a favourite tactic, especially when the situation is thorny,” said Glen. This tactic, however, can backfire and even extend the time your crisis is in the news.
6. Prepare for the calls. “Thoroughly acquaint yourself with the situation,” said Glen. “Prepare some talking points. When a journalist calls, ask for some time, if it came out of the blue. You can ask for a half hour to marshal your thoughts. Ask for their deadline. But make sure you do call back.”
7. Don’t ask to go off the record. OTR is a mutual agreement between the journalist and the interviewee, so never assume you’re OTR – especially in a crisis.
8. Don’t ask to see the story before it’s published. “That’s not going to happen,” said Glen.
Glen’s final piece of advice: the journalist has been told to get a story, and get a story she will, so be sure to get your story out in front.
“If they’re not talking to you, they’re talking to someone less important, someone with a different point of view.”