When is a crisis…a crisis?

When is a crisis…a crisis?

Always…because when you run a business you’re constantly concerned about credibility and reputation…!  But when there is a reporter on the other end of the phone asking about an incident, how do you plan to respond?

Many organisations face the possibility that, at any time, something could go wrong and result in immediate harm or damage to the reputation of a person or a brand. So how a crisis is handled can distinguish one organisation apart from another.

By being prepared, the immediate fallout of an incident can be minimised, and some control exerted over how your staff, customers, suppliers and the media react to it. And you need to be on top of your game because informal networks and social channels can also spread either good or bad news.

In a crisis, action and communication are equally important. In the heat of the moment your natural instinct might be to concentrate on reacting to an incident, but how you communicate will be just as important.

Words can live long in the memory; however, the digital footprint of a story or comments could haunt you for many years. The real crisis might not be what has happened but what people think has happened. For example, the events surrounding the lockdown busting parties, or work events, have had repercussions for Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his team at Number 10.

Bad news makes better headlines and is often more memorable than good news. It is more likely to attract attention from journalists who are keen to score a scoop for their CV. It’s important to remember that when a journalist makes contact, they’re only doing their job to the best of their ability; anything that you can do to help them will be readily welcomed and may pay dividends in the way a story is written.

Journalists have a duty to maintain the highest professional and ethical standards. Their Code of Conduct stipulates that the information they disseminate must be ‘fair and accurate’ and that they must avoid ‘the expression of comment and conjecture as established fact’ and ‘falsification by distortion, selection or misrepresentation.’

Any harmful inaccuracies are to be ‘rectified promptly’, ensuring that ‘correction and apologies receive due prominence and afford the right of reply to persons criticised when the issue is of sufficient importance.

Information, photographs and illustrations should only be obtained by ‘straightforward means’ unless there are overriding considerations of public interest. Subject to those same considerations, journalists are to do ‘nothing which entails intrusion into private grief and distress.’

Of course, ‘public interest’ is, for the journalist, a reassuringly broad justification for pushing the boundaries of investigative journalism to new limits, and it is sensible to bear in mind that the driving force behind most newspaper journalism is the purely commercial motive of selling more newspapers or getting people to visit their website.

In the event of a crisis, the media will want as much information as possible. Information is your most powerful tool. The more helpful you can be in providing it, the better disposed the media will be to your organisation, and there is less of a chance that journalists will search for it elsewhere.

When we act as a spokesperson, we aim to establish our role as the sole source of authoritative information about an incident or issue.  Every crisis is different, but in managing relationships with journalists, it’s important to speak with one clear voice.

If you’re not in possession of all the facts don’t be tempted to speculate when you field an enquiry, find out more before commenting.

An agreed statement, and all contact with the media and other potential audiences, should convey the vital message that, regardless of whose fault the crisis is, the cause may not be determined until a full investigation has been conducted. If it’s, without doubt, your fault don’t be afraid to take it on the chin as trying to hide behind someone else can cause even more damage.

With the world looking on, reassurance, a human face, and swift, positive action are the order of the day. Above all, make plans, practice regularly, and hope you’ll never need to use them.

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