© 2005 Jonathan Bernstein
Estimated Readership: 14,000+
JUST A THOUGHT
I didn't come into a culture of corruption. I know a lot about corruption and this is not it.
Marsh & McLennan CEO Michael Cherkasky
From Pioneer Press, Minneapolis, 3/3/05
CRISIS MANAGER UNIVERSITY
Editor's Note: In his "Crisis Guru Commentaries," renowned crisis management consultant and author Jim Lukaszewski provides real answers to real questions about critical communications problems and issues. He was kind enough to grant permission to reprint the following Q&A exchange from a recent issue of his ezine.
Correcting The Record When The Media Get It Wrong
By Jim Lukaszewski
Since the media control what is printed and broadcast, how do we find a way to correct lax reporting and media errors? If we respond strongly, they re-editorialize or add those awful italicized comments at the end of their article, or they go out of their way to remind the world of our last catastrophe.
The media's intentional deafness to reader and viewer feedback has led to more creative ways to fix the broken or erroneous record created by news coverage. I advise my clients to skip asking media outlets for corrections and clarifications, letters to the editor, or op-eds. Instead, I recommend using a website to post articles with corrections and clarifications in detail. We are now more frequently audio recording interviews, transcribing the interviews then posting the transcripts or at least links from article content and corrections to the actual interview.
It is increasingly important for employees, regulators, shareholders, victims, and others to read the entire interview, beyond the de minimis quotes the reporter or editor chooses to use.
Occasionally our corrections have had "errors" brought to our attention by a reporter or editor. When that happens we immediately, and without reservation or editing, include their comments right along with ours, and the original.
While we have never received a "thoughtful letter of response" from a New York Times reporter or editor, if received it would be immediately posted, too.
These corrections are then provided to the publics we care about or who care about us. For broadcast news, we post transcripts and the corrections to those. Occasionally, I have had clients actually respond 'live' to broadcast stories. We always try to show both the story as it was broadcast and our corrections to specific content. We also link our corrections text to the complete transcript of the interview. This way audiences can make up their own minds.
This is a crucial strategy because the media relies on itself or various "sources" for validation. Most of the time reporters and editors don't go back and fix a story once it has been published or broadcast. Yet once a mistake occurs, other media pick it up and the mistake or misimpression becomes unstoppable.
Reporters do consult the Web when doing stories and so we find that this corrections strategy helps them get it right, from the start. And they soon find out that we care enough about what is said or written that we will correct every one.
In the end, the clients's destiny is in their own hands.
The Web does provide, as you pointed out, new and creative opportunities for interaction with the subjects of news stories. If you don't provide it, someone else will.
Copyright 2005, James E. Lukaszewski. All rights reserved. To submit a question to the "Crisis Guru Commentaries," please write to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also obtain more information on Jim, his publications and his upcoming speaking engagements at www.e911.com.
Editor's Note: Judy Hoffman returns to the pages of "Crisis Manager" in this wise collection of things NOT to do while engaged in crisis management media relations.
The Four Fatal Fiascos Of Dealing With The Media
By Judy Hoffman
There are MANY things that can go wrong when you deal with the media, especially in the aftermath of an incident that has placed your company in a negative light. How would you handle an interview if news has just broken that:
- An employee has been injured or killed on your site?
- You were the subject of a hostile takeover?
- An employee is accusing a manager of sexual harassment or racial discrimination?
- You were served with a big regulatory fine?
- A spill of hazardous materials is threatening the environment?
- Neighbors are fed up with noise, dust, or traffic from your facility?
Almost everyone who has been interviewed in such a situation can tell a horror story. They were ambushed, misquoted, misinterpreted, or taken out of context. There are a lot of things that you SHOULD do and say in times of crises. Here let's concentrate on the four things you should avoid doing at all costs.
Fatal Fiasco #1: Saying "No Comment"
The initial impulse of many people is to blurt out these two words. They think that the reporter will just give up and go away. In fact, reporters tell me they translate "No comment" into "Guilty as charged." It simply convinces them there is something that needs to be investigated more thoroughly.
Does this mean you must always answer a reporter's questions? No. There are a number of good reasons why you should not do so:
- Matters in litigation.
- Causes of accidents when the investigation is not complete (which amounts to speculating).
- Matters outside your areas of expertise and knowledge.
What you should do is say, "I'm sorry, but I simply cannot answer that question because _________" and give the reason. Then go on to tell the reporter something you can share that will give them information they can use for a story (preferably one of your positive key messages).
Fatal Fiasco #2: Lying
All decent media relationships are based on mutual trust and respect. If you are ever tempted to lie to a reporter, stop and consider the consequences. The temporary avoidance of immediate pain is not worth losing your most important asset, your credibility. If you lie even one time, you will never be considered trustworthy. The negative impression will affect not only the current story, but all future encounters. Remember, too, that reporters talk among themselves.
Fatal Fiasco #3: Losing Your Temper
If you yell, "Get off my property!" or take a swing at the cameraman, that video segment may be the only view of your company the public ever gets to see - not a good way to promote your corporate reputation. Sometimes a reporter is intentionally rude or hostile, attempting to get you to lose your cool and go beyond the agreed upon company statement. Media people thrive on drama. If they make you lose your temper, you've given it to them. They'll be happy, but you - and your organization - will lose.
Call on every bit of self-control you can muster, and remain professional. The reporters - and your ultimate audience of readers or viewers - will respect you. This is much more valuable in the long run than allowing yourself the short-lived satisfaction of venting your anger.
Fatal Fiasco #4: Losing Eye Contact
What have we all learned it means when a person cannot look us in the eye? Without a doubt, we are sure he is untrustworthy - either holding something back or outright lying. Reporters will observe you closely, judging whether you can be believed. Their assessment may make a big difference in how they write the story. When answering questions, look the reporter in the eye with a steady, but not unfriendly, gaze.
This is especially important during TV interviews. In my media training workshops, most participants tell me that their mothers had taught them it was rude to stare at people. Then I tell them, "Forget what your mother told you!" In a TV interview, when thinking of an answer to a tough question, you don't dare drop your eyes to the floor or roll them to the ceiling. As soon as you lose eye contact with the reporter, your audience gets a subliminal but powerful message that you are not being honest. Steady gazing at a person like this is not an easy thing to do. It is a skill that only comes with practice.
Much more goes into giving a good media interview. I highly recommend that, before a crisis hits, you obtain some competent media training. This training should include videotaping as you work through real-life crises scenarios. In this way, you will be better able to deal with a crisis effectively from the earliest moments when you still have time to positively influence the story. However, if you have to deal with potentially negative media coverage before you've had time to get such training, you can avoid some of the most damaging effects by refusing to fall into the traps of these "four fatal fiascos."
Judy Hoffman is the author of "Keeping Cool on the Hot Seat" and editor of the free "Quick Tips for Keeping Cool" newsletter. You can find out more about both publications at www.judyhoffman.com.
CRISIS MANAGER BUSINESS ANNOUNCEMENTS
CD-ROM: Crisis Management & The Law
How PR Pros & Lawyers Can Work Together Effectively
Featuring Jonathan Bernstein, Richard Levick and Ed Novak
On February 23, 2005, Jonathan Bernstein played talk show host and expert commentator in a one-hour teleseminar featuring internationally renowned litigation PR expert Richard Levick and one of the country's top white collar crime attorneys, Ed Novak. This CD-ROM is a "must have" to play for the executive staff of any organization, for practice group meetings at law firms, or for the entire staff of any PR agency. It captures the full teleseminar in which the threesome answered questions such as:
- If the attorney and PR person disagree, to whom should the CEO listen most closely?
- When do PR considerations outweigh legal considerations, and vice versa?
- What types of legal matters require close collaboration between legal and PR counsel?
- What can a PR person do when dealing with an attorney who just doesn't "get it" with regard to crisis communications?
- What can an attorney do when his client doesn't seem to understand the need for complementary PR?
- What are some "right way/wrong way" examples that illustrate the principles of effective crisis management in legal matters?
Go to www.thecrisismanager.com for this and other educational and training materials produced by Jonathan Bernstein.
Keeping The Wolves At Bay
Keeping the Wolves at Bay remains, to my knowledge, the only commercially published media training manual in the world. It can be purchased in PDF or hard-copy form at www.thecrisismanager.com, and its pages can be modified to make it YOUR "name brand" media training manual if you are an agency or organization that frequently conducts training. If the latter subject is of interest to you, write to: email@example.com.
Crisis Alert Service Launched
For anyone who missed the announcement, Bob Aronson and I just launched a free "Crisis Alert" service to bring you news of trends and events that we believe could evolve into crises in the near future. The first alert addressed the dramatic rise in workplace use of methamphetamines and what readers could do to minimize the chance of that addiction creating crisis situations. [Note: Service has been discontinued.]
PLAIN ENGLISH DISCLOSURE
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ABOUT THE EDITOR & PUBLISHER
Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., www.bernsteincrisismanagement.com, a national crisis management public relations agency providing 24/7 access to crisis response professionals. The agency engages in the full spectrum of crisis management services: crisis prevention, response, planning & training. He has been in the public relations field since 1982, following five-year stints in both military intelligence and investigative reporting. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc. is located at 1013 Orange Avenue, Monrovia, CA 91016. Telephone: (626) 825-3838.
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