Your business may be cruising along, all appearing to be right with the world. And then—crisis hits, and the reporters are suddenly at your door (or on the line) wanting answers and a story. Do you know how to handle the media and respond to these inquiries professionally?
Every organization needs a good strategy to manage crises effectively and maintain their reputation. Keep in mind that a reporter could contact you about anything from a single customer complaint about your product or service to company-wide layoffs. You need to be prepared for both ends of the spectrum.
Make sure you and your team are on the same page. Use caution in telling employees that they CANNOT speak to the media, as the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) could view this as your company preventing concerted activity.
Suppose your company is growing and having a larger impact on your community. In that case, it might even be time to invest in a crisis communication team that could guide you on managing both employees and the media during a crisis.
But if you are running the show on your own for now, don’t worry. We have five rules (and many tips!) on how HR teams and business leaders should respond to the media.
5 Rules for Managing Media Inquiries
1. Gather data and prepare key messages
Start by collecting as much information as possible about the issue the reporter is calling about. Prepare the crucial points or soundbites you want to incorporate in your answers. For example, note positive reasons for closing a business site or how you are offering extensive support to help staff find new work after job cuts or a closure.
Don’t be afraid to ask for more time to gather information. Here are a few example responses:
- “I am very busy right now, but I or someone in our organization will get back to you. Can I follow up with you in an hour/day?”
- “Is there anything else that you are interested in that I can gather while I look into this information?” (This helps open up the dialogue from the media on what they are looking for.)
- “I just arrived/was just informed and need to gather more information to see what the situation’s details are. Let me have 20 minutes to see what the situation is, and I will respond.”
If they say they are under a deadline, do not be held hostage to this. YOU decide the timeline to respond. It is not unreasonable to request time (relative to the issue) to look into the situation or gather information. If it’s something like one customer complaint, you may even be able to resolve the issue within that time.
Bottom line: Anticipate the worst, most difficult questions and don’t feel pressured to respond immediately.
2. Remain calm and stick to the facts
During the interview, keep the tone light, but don’t resort to joking and humor. You could be quoted out of context and come off as insensitive.
While it may be challenging during a high-stress scenario, control your frustration and anger. Do not use negative terms or say anything that could be perceived as controversial. As long as you don’t lose your temper and instead remain professional, you won’t give the reporter any news to report.
If in-person or on camera, be conscious of your facial expressions and body language. Remember, your face will show your emotions, so watch for things like scowling and looking into the sun. And don’t hold up your hand to the camera unless you want to end up on the front page—we’ve all seen those newspaper and tabloid story photos.
Keep these tips in mind to maintain your composure:
- Breathe deeply.
- Relax your shoulders.
- Speak clearly and slowly in short sentences.
- Stick to your key messages and keep answers simple.
- Avoid rambling, inconclusive answers.
- Don’t take the bait of silly or instigating questions.
Finally, NEVER say “No comment”! This could sound very negative and give the impression that you’re hiding something. There are many ways to say this without actually saying it, like the examples above on asking for more time to research and gather info.
3. Consider potential twists
What may seem like a harmless story could be turned into something negative if your words are taken out of context. Review all of your responses and key messages and consider how they could be twisted.
What point is the reporter trying to make with their piece? Are they actually in favor of the product or service you provide or are they attempting to discredit it and your company? Do your research. Imagine how everything you say could be used out of context and edit your comments accordingly. Sticking to brief, direct answers also helps with this.
4. Remember, “off-the-record” doesn’t exist
Know that anything you say can and might be published. A reporter doesn’t need your permission to write or print anything you say, so only share what you are comfortable with being published. Even if the reporter says your conversation is “on background” or “off-the-record,” these terms are not legally binding.
5. Assume they’re recording you
Did you know 33 states allow for “one-party” taping? That means only one person needs to be aware of the recording—and that one person can be the reporter.
Even in states that require “two-party” notification, an “on-hold” message alerting callers that your company may record or monitor calls is enough to give the reporter permission to record on their end.
Although responding to the media during times of crisis may sound intimidating, working with the media can also be positive! Be strategic about which interviews you accept. When you speak with reporters, make factual, concise, and interesting points to maximize positive coverage and come out of difficult situations with your organization’s reputation intact.
Does your HR team need guidance in handling the media? Perhaps you have personnel issues and want help managing them before the media turns them into a whole thing? Contact BlueLion today for assistance at 603-818-4131 or firstname.lastname@example.org to speak with our experienced HR professionals.
The information on this website, including its newsletters, is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should contact an attorney or HR specialist for advice on your individual situation.