Ten Top Tips: How to handle the media in a crisis

Something's gone wrong and the media have caught wind of it. What do you do next? Former newshound turned entrepreneur Graham Leach has ten ways to save your reputation.

by Graham Leach
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

1. Have a plan

This may sound fatuous, but you'd be surprised how many big companies don't have any systems in place for dealing with a media crisis. Never underestimate the impact a negative story can have. The media loves love big stories and are likely to devote a lot of time and attention to them. Most large organisations which do have a crisis plan invariably deal only with internal response and recovery. The plan hardly ever takes the media onslaught into consideration.

2.Get ready for some company

Make sure you're prepared for the arrival of the media scrum - either outside your organisation's headquarters or at the scene of the disaster, the crisis or the major setback for your company. Where will you marshal them - outside on the pavement or will you invite them in to attend formal news conferences on your premises?

3. Prepare for the questions

What will you tell them? Can your spokespeople hold the company line under intense questioning? In general it's best to have a core of skilled spokespeople who can deal with any interview, whatever its format. Don't just rely on your most senior people. They might be on holiday, or ill. In any case, they will be closely concerned with managing the crisis itself.

4. Open the lines of communication

For the media who are not on site, there should be a dedicated phone line available for their inquiries.  The main phone lines of course have to be kept clear to deal with the crisis.

5. Contextualise the problem

Reporters need all the information they can get. Have you background material, pre-prepared and ready to hand out? Facts and figures? Biogs of senior figures in the organisation?

6. Think fast, talk fast

Silence is not golden. However grim things are looking, it's generally best to come out with a statement of some kind – and fast. The longer you leave it, the more quickly the evidence will build up against you in the mind of the public. When, eventually, you decide to confront the media, you may by then have lost a considerable amount of ground, which is then very difficult to recapture.

7. Dole out tasks before a crisis hits

Make sure your press office is fully equipped to deal with the crisis. Everyone should know what role they undertake when the phones start ringing and the media bombardment begins. Once the crisis is up and running, that is not the time to start deciding who does what.

8. Don’t become a slave to the crisis plan

One crisis is rarely the same as another. You need to be adaptable and modify your plan as and when required.

9. Don't neglect social media

Ensure there are people available to deal with the social media. This is where speculation, guesswork and allegations breed and spread. More and more often news or comment appearing on Twitter or Facebook drives the mainstream media. Keeping abreast of the social media is vital in handling a crisis.

10. Make sure your operation is slick

Most importantly, can you accomplish all this in a matter of minutes, before the 24-hour news machines have a chance to speculate and exaggerate?

Graham Leach is a former journalist and co-founder of media training company HarveyLeach

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