Crisis, do I use the media or not?

When you are in the middle of a crisis the last call you often want is from a journalist, asking questions and trying to find out what, where, when, why and how?

However, the media can be a useful ally during a crisis. If suitably managed, they can be invaluable in ensuring that key stakeholders are aware of actions being taken by the affected organisation and help cement a feeling that the organisation in question is in charge of managing the crisis and more importantly, in control.

Crucially however, organisations can sometimes be too quick to tell their side of the story, without considering the possible outcomes of a rash statement. It is integral that a clear and consistent narrative and key messaging is thoroughly developed, before approaching the media. Often the use of a holding line to the media can show control of a situation and give organisations the time to think about the bigger message.

One should bear in mind that refusing to engage with the media gives them free reign to develop their own narrative about what has occurred.

There are many examples over the years of companies who have been heavily impacted by such rash behaviour.

Take the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989. Exxon’s then chairman, Lawrence Rawl, disliked the media and did not want the company to cooperate with them. This led to a damaging ‘information void’, filled by the media printing distressing images of dying animals, covered in oil alongside articles attacking Exxon.

This refusal to engage with the media hugely damaged Exxon’s reputation, no doubt contributing to them suffering estimated losses of $16m.

Compare this with the Chilean mining accident in 2010, which saw 33 miners trapped underground.

This inevitably attracted a great deal of press. Yes in this case, the crisis was well managed, due largely to Sebastián Piñera, Chile’s president at the time, who was a media magnate and well-versed in communications.

Throughout the rescue effort, the government kept the media fully informed of its strategy. The president’s ease in front of the camera was invaluable and the miners’ families, as well as observers internationally, received regular updates. There was a clear narrative throughout, leading to the provision of transparent information.

Some argue that if there are no developments in a crisis, there is nothing to tell the media and that they should only be utilised when there is something of substance to report.

Even if there are no developments it is important to keep media informed and to assure stakeholders that you are working hard to rectify the situation.

When using the media in a crisis, consider the following:

  1. Recognise that you have a crisis on your hands
  2. Ensure that you are seen to be taking the appropriate actions
  3. Ensure that you are heard to be saying the right things
  4. Recognise that the media can be used to your advantage

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