By Chris Gilmour

Six steps to managing the media in a PR crisis

Crisis management is all about getting the right message out to diffuse a situation which threatens brand reputation.

So it follows that good media contact will serve you well. That is, if you know how to manage this fickle beast.

The first rule of crisis communication is to be prepared for every outcome. A crisis management plan should be in place to deal with possible problems.

But since every disaster is different, you’ve got to roll with the punches – and hope they don’t come too fast and heavy.

As far as the media is concerned, there are six key steps to managing their involvement in your crisis.

Prepare for some company

The media are going to turn up – either outside your business headquarters or at the scene of a PR disaster. Where are you going to put them? Will you invite them in for a press conference, or leave them standing outside drawing attention to your building and possibly approaching employees as they come and go?

Your crisis communications team should plan to be the perfect hosts – by putting reporters somewhere where they can work comfortably but cause as little disruption to the running of the business as possible.

Open lines of communication

Who comes across best in interviews? Who can answer phones to journalists? Who can write a statement? Your crisis communication plan should already have some ideas. Set the process in motion as soon as possible.

Silence is not golden in the crisis. The longer you take to respond, the more time people have to wildly speculate about what could have gone wrong.

Don’t view journalists as enemies

In the event of any topical issues, you would turn on the TV or pick up a newspaper to discover more. So don’t complain when reporters turn up to cover your issue.

Use them to your advantage as part of your crisis communication strategy. They have the power to help turn PR disasters around.

Look upon them as the fastest and most effective way to get your message across.

Avoid saying “no comment”

Media interviews are no doubt going to happen, or at the very least you will need to put out a statement. If there’s a question you are not yet prepared to answer, try to respond with something along the lines of “an investigation is still underway” or follow up your statement with “that’s all I’m prepared to say until we have more details”.

Don’t be afraid to be honest and say “I don’t have that information yet, but you will be the first to know when I find out”.

A “no comment” response makes your brand look guilty of something, or as if it’s attempting a cover up. Likewise avoiding the media or refusing to speak will fuel speculation you can do without.

Never speak “off the record”

You either have something to say, or you don’t. While journalists may ask you to give them a bit of background information – and they’ll promise not to print it – you can’t be sure who to trust.

Media relations is about releasing a consistent message to everyone. If one newspaper feels you’re giving out juicy titbits to their rivals, they are less likely to do a sympathetic report.

So don’t be tempted to give out “off the record” information to individuals.

Be as transparent as you can

Reporters need all the information they can get. Have your background ready to give out – facts and figures on your company, biogs of senior figures within the organisation, and as many good news stories you can find on the brand – its successes, the charities it supports etc.

Don’t be naïve enough to think the Press won’t dig up anything negative which has happened to the brand in the past. But use your best crisis management PR to put a positive spin on it – what the brand learned and how fast it cleared up the mess.


For advice on how to handle - or avoid - an online crisis, give us a call on 0800 612 9890