If you find yourself or your organisation in a situation where you are getting unwanted media attention, the first thing to do is pick up the phone and call me to come up with a plan for internal and external relations. Generally speaking, if it’s hot in the kitchen, I can help you put the flames out.
As a starting point when it comes to the media, it is important not to duck and weave an issue, especially when it has become or is about to become public knowledge. Fairly or not, in the public’s eye saying ‘no comment’ is an admission of guilt.
If you do find yourself in front of the press firing squad, here is some quick information on what to do and what to say instead of an awkward “no comment”.
You are a capable and caring person.
Firstly, you need to show you are genuine and that you are a capable, caring person who wants to be transparent and has nothing to hide. You can do this by saying:
- I am/we are concerned
- I am/we are gathering facts
- I/we will tell you more as soon as we know more.
Depending upon the situation or the allegation, an individual such as a company director will need to be prepared both personally and also on behalf of the organisation. A press release can be developed (often with the consultation of the legal representative), and if the allegations are false/denied, I encourage a simple sentence in replace of ‘no comment’:
Instead of no comment from the individual:
- The allegations are patently untrue, and this is an extremely distressing time for my family and myself. I look forward to the outcome of the investigations/hearing.
The company spokesperson (if you don’t manage to keep the entities separate):
- We are aware of the situation and are working to gather the facts as quickly as possible. We continue to standby our people until such a situation that we are convinced their actions are not in line with our company values.
- We are extremely concerned about the situation and are cooperating fully with all investigations. Being this is still an active investigation, we are limited in what information we can share right now, but we will provide an update as soon as practicable.
Calm, confident and capable.
If a pushy reporter ambushes you, do not run or duck for cover or look suspicious in any way. Plant your feet, stand your ground in a confident, no aggressive way. Here is a suggestion on what you can say:
- “I am really not able to speak to you right now, but I would be happy to sit down with you later today, please give me your details and I will make arrangements.” (Then call me straight away).
Journalists are human too, and sometimes in the pursuit of a story, they can get caught up in the adrenalin (and some are paid to be this way). If you are getting peppered with questions or the journalist and team are overly aggressive don’t take the bait. More than likely it is a live-feed, and you don’t want the audience seeing you lose it. It is essential you appear a reasonable, sorry and humble human, if you offer an interview at another time, the reporter will look like a bully, which will work in your favour for round two.
The news is a cycle, and you will cycle out of it. The problem we now face is that press will not be restricted to the TV; images and footage will more than likely end up online within the hour. For this reason, it is essential to consult with a professional communications consultant as soon as practical to work out a plan.
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