How to handle the media in a crisis
16.12.20

As we continue to navigate ourselves through these challenging times surrounding COVID-19, it’s important we stay on the front-foot when it comes to crisis communications and the impact the coronavirus can have on your company’s reputation.

Crisis communications immediately reverts to us working in a reactive mode, when naturally in our day to day working lives we are conditioned to be more proactive as we plan, engage and deliver, so this will take a bit of adjusting. But being in this mode for now will serve you well long-term.

Staying ahead of the game

Preparation will help, leave it to chance and you could be left hesitating, speechless and unprofessional.

Therefore, creating a media crisis response team is advisable as this is the team that will protect your reputation and lead you through this difficult time. Establish a team from different functions across your company, including, HR, a member of the leadership team, communications, health and safety and legal being the key players. A trusted pair of hands is exactly what is needed. This team should:

  • Meet regularly and provide regular updates
  • Be as transparent as possible. Explain what you know, what you don’t know, and your sources of information
  • Be the main source of information
  • Be succinct. Long in-depth messages will not be read or easily understood. Keep the language simple.
  • Be creative – think of ways you can turn a negative into a positive

Communicate early and often, even if you’re still trying to understand the extent of the situation, be honest and open to maintain credibility. Approach the situation with empathy. You will sometimes get it right, and you will often get it wrong, but it is still better to be up front and honest than shy away from the situation which can lead to unnecessary media attention.

The same message needs to be heard and understood. By providing regular updates as and when necessary, this is crucial to building trust with the media and your stakeholders.

Handling media enquiries

When it comes to the media in particular, it’s wise to have a party line or holding statement in place, just in case you find yourself in an untenable position around matters that involve staff working remotely, temporary office closures or cancelling large-scale events, for example.

We are seeing more and more of this happening and it’s becoming a hot topic for journalists to cover. Therefore, in case you are contacted, have your statement in place.  This is where your crisis communications team can add value.

During the pandemic we’ve seen announcements about the travel industry being hit hard. This is a great example of how crisis communications teams are vital. If played out well, these announcements will go a long way towards reassuring current customers as well as bringing new ones on board down the line.

The power of social media

In situations like COVID-19, this is where social media can be played to your advantage. You can relay your current message to a number of key stakeholders as an instant way of communicating your up-to-date situation.

Given the coronavirus situation changes have taken place regularly due to government guidelines and restrictions, your social media updates need to reflect this to reassure your audience that you are monitoring the situation and taking the correct measures to keep staff, suppliers, delegates and stakeholders safe.

Remember to keep this in line with the same messaging you are telling the media. Consistency is key as there is no room for errors as it could create negative interest with the media, leading to further difficult questions.

Turning a negative into a positive        

Like anything in life, there is always a positive somewhere. You just need to find it and play on it.

With regards to COVID-19, you can deflect any media attention away by highlighting the positive action your company is involved with. For example, you’ve been forced to make job losses to secure the future of your business, but you could instead announce that you’ve paid back part of your furlough money to the government. This is exactly the type of message that needs to be communicated on social media, which could eventually lead to a nice media story.

Summary

It’s been a busy time for crisis communications teams, often involving round the clock cover for journalist requests, especially if you are a global operator as time zones come into play. But by being fully prepared and briefed, this will allow you to continue operating your business in the safe knowledge that your crisis response team is ready to react to any media issues to defend your company’s reputation.