5 Tips to Managing a Media Crisis

Written by Lahra Carey

It’s fascinating to observe a CEO or a high profile personality in the eye of the media storm when a crisis is unfolding. This is truly the moment that separates the boys (and girls) from the men (and women).

What happens when you are placed under the most extreme pressure of public scrutiny and you have no time to think clearly? You must depend on the counsel of your closest and most trusted advisors – and how you deliver your message is as important as the message itself.

Here are my top five tips:

1. Preparation. If your crisis plan is gathering dust in a bottom draw it cannot help you in your hour of need. If you work in the public arena, your team needs to know what is expected immediately the alarm bell sounds. You should be rehearsing this scenario (preferably in real time) at least once every year.

2. On your terms. Being unavailable to the media during a crisis is like signing your own death warrant. “No comment” is unacceptable. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t take control of the situation. Ensure the timing and location of your interview(s) are dictated by you. Where you are filmed or photographed can say a lot – and this is a crucial time to be sending the right message.

3. Rehearse. It’s one thing having a great speech-writer, but quite another to deliver the script in a genuine and believable way. And even though holy hell may be breaking loose around you, rehearsing your key messages and responses before you face the media will not be time wasted. Have a trusted advisor prep you by throwing some curly questions at you before you do it for real.

4. How you look can be as important as what you say. It’s hard to look strong and in control when you’ve had a camera-crew camped on your doorstep for the past week, but you must. Make sure your appearance reflects the subtext of your message. For women, there’s an added pressure – You may be sleep-deprived with roots that haven’t seen a colorist in weeks but if you want the world to see you as in control, you will have to make time to spruce yourself up. At the same time you don’t want to be applying fresh foundation at the scene of a tragedy – that’s plain tasteless.

5. You can’t fake authenticity. This is where most executives come unstuck. If you’re representing big business, you may be cast as Goliath in the court of public opinion. In this case, the last thing you want is to be portrayed as disingenuous. Far better to express genuine sympathy or distress than to be branded a faker.

But the best advice is probably self evident – Many times I’ve been called in to manage a full-blown crisis which could have been circumvented at so many points along the way.

Don’t bury your head in the sand. When things start to go wrong, bite the bullet and ‘fes up. It’s much easier to fix a small wrong than to ride out a full-blown media storm.