Category Archives: Crisis Communications

Media training basics

There are lots of people in this line of work who do media training. Everyone comes at it from a particular perspective and almost any training can help to prepare someone unaccustomed to facing media interviews to perform much better under pressure. Here are a few of the key items we try to help clients with when asked to help with media training.

1) Know what the reporters want. They usually have a story in mind and in most cases, they have a role for you to play and it is their job to get on tape what has already been preconceived in their mind. Don’t assume they are interested in what you have to say or your perspective or your company’s position. If you are on camera you are going to fit a ten second spot that helps fill in the holes and provide a compelling, entertaining story. They may be looking for human reaction, they may be looking for the standard “our hearts go out..”, they may be looking for you to appear baffled, uncomfortable and guilty. They will try to control what you give them so that it fits their needs. but it is not necessarily your job to fit their needs.

2) You control the mike. When they put a microphone in your face or ask you questions with pen in hand, you are in control. It feels like you are not, but a media trained person knows that they are in control. In control of their face, their demeanor and their words. That’s why it is critical to understand before the interview what you want to leave them on the tape to work with. It’s critical to know very well what the key messages are and how you wish to convey them. Then the primary task is to respond to their questions in a way that provides only what you want to provide.

3) How you say it may be more important than what you say. That’s why choosing a media spokesperson is important and tricky. They may be smart, think fast on their feet, know the right answers, and all that. But if they come across as uneasy, unconfident, untrustworthy there is a big problem. There are a number of people who just naturally have a “deer in the headlights” look and they don’t do well on camera. Neither do those who look sour or angry or mean. The natural demeanor of someone is important and training can help make adjustments but often it is easier to find a spokesperson that doesn’t require that kind of training. History would tell a different story if our President didn’t continually come across as the goof off frat boy.

4) Authenticity. This seems counter to all above and if it seems that way, there is something wrong. The point is to be effective you have to be open and honest, trustworthy, responsive and communicate effectively the messages important to your organization, and do this while being totally yourself. The ones who do very well at this succeed on all counts. But it ain’t necessarily easy.

Video or not?

The linked story talks about the growing use of video on the web.
Video use growing story in LA Times.

The future was highlighted by Robert Scoble leaving his post at Microsoft to go to Podtech.net which is in the video podcasting business.

The question for those involved in crisis management and reputation management is how to use video as part of their efforts.

The comment in the linked story from CNet is important. Video is not always necessary or appropriate. Gratuitous use of video will not only not help, it will hurt. So, video should be used only if it contributes to the communication effort. Does it make the message more interesting, compelling, complete, accurate, understandable?

The US Coast Guard uses video frequently and very appropriately in my mind. They use it to show rescues and the work that they are doing to keep our borders and waters safe. It tells stories that simply can’t be conveyed in words alone. Go to almost any of the district public affairs websites and you will see what I mean.

Which raises one issue. As a communicator, can you quickly and very easily process and upload video to your organization’s website? If not, get to work on it.

The advantages of being "not cultured"

Apparently Zinedine Zidane, the French soccer star who head butted an opponent, was responding to an insult the opponent, Marco Materazzi hurled at him. Zidane said Materazzi called him a terrorist. But according to this story posted on newsvine, the Italian said he couldn’t have called him a terrorist because he doesn’t even know what a terrorist is. He’s “not cultured” enough for that.

Here’s what Materazzi said according to the news story.
“I did insult him, it’s true,” Materazzi said in Tuesday’s Gazzetta dello Sport. “But I categorically did not call him a terrorist. I’m not cultured and I don’t even know what an Islamic terrorist is.”

Now this is rather ripe for comment. Apparently professional soccer players are isolated enough from the world that they aren’t familiar with one of the most commonly used and over used terms of the last half decade. Also, apparently, it takes a cultured person to throw the really hurtful insults. An only cultured people have much familiarity with the Islamic world. This is all rather bizarre.

But my question was, if you are the crisis manager for Mr. Zidane, what the heck would you do to try to rescue his reputation? The head butt now has been seen by multiple millions of people and of course we did not hear the uncultured insult that prompted it. Is there any hope for the French star’s reputation. He received the award for the top player but now that is a matter of controversy. The whole world cup is overshadowed by one instantaneous act of outrageous stupidity and frustration, as is the career of someone at the top of his game.

Any ideas we can pass on to Mr Zidane?

Proactive or reactive–is this the toughest question?

I’m involved in helping manage a crisis right now, that like many others, highlights the question of being proactive or reactive. In this case it involved making a business decision that would be received very negatively by the community where the business is located. Knowing that there would those who felt strongly about the issue and would perhaps even take actions to harm the company, I recommended and the client agreed to conduct a proactive communication effort. When the word went out to the community through the press about the decision the company made, the reaction was much greater than anticipated. We provided a feedback mechanism on the company website which allowed people to express their opinion or vent. And vent some of them did! There were a number of positive and supportive comments but a larger number of negative and some of the negative ones were threatening, ugly, and disturbing.

I’ve now talked to some in the community who say letting the whole community know about this through the newspaper was a bad idea. Many would not have known and we brought it to their attention.

A crisis communications counselor never wants to elevate a situation or create a controversy where none exists. It is one of the hardest decisions to make is to bring something to someones attention when you know they are not going to like it. Maybe, you think, you can just quietly go about your business and only a few will notice and not make a stink about it.

I continue to believe the client did the right thing. It is based on the principle first of all that if you have some bad news, it is best coming from you than from someone else. If you think your issue will be discussed in a negative light by many people who may not understand all the circumstances, it is best to bring it forward. If you think it will erupt into a serious issue and that you will likely have to explain yourself when it does, then talk about it first because when you respond after it erupts opinions have been formed, misinformation may be rampant, and you will almost always look defensive.

In this case we had genuine reason to feel that the passions of some of those who took an extreme position could prove damaging to the company. If anything, we underestimated some of those passions and the length to which people will go when they think they are right. It was right to be proactive. But it also right to keep asking the question.