A Media Crisis is when every reporter in the world seems to want to talk with you. If you or your organization is believed to have done something bad, then that is a Media Crisis. But if the story is Big Good News then you still have a problem, and if you don’t handle things properly you can end up turning the experience into Big Bad News.
These are general principles to use in either case. They must be used with a prepared Media Crisis Plan — something everyone in the public eye needs.
1. Never lie! Never try to cover-up. Journalists leave no wounded when they discover a lie or a cover-up. You’re much better off taking a quick sharp jab from the media for doing something stupid than twisting in the wind over a media bonfire.
2. Always comment! Like it or not the public always interprets a "No comment!" quote as proof of guilt. If you really can’t respond to a reporter’s questions then explain why you can’t. They respect that.
3. If you don’t know, say so! There is nothing wrong with admitting you don’t have an answer. If you can get the answer then offer to find out for the reporter. Don’t try to guess the answer or speculate.
4. Stick to the event and the facts! Resist with all you might the temptation to respond to hypothetical questions. Your philosophical musings have a terrible tendency to become the story.
5. Know your place! Unless you are the head of your organization don’t start commenting on policy or matters outside of your area of responsibility. It’s okay to say, "You’ll have to ask someone else."
6. Return phone calls and follow up on promises! Your media crisis plan will help you deal with heavy media enquiry pressure but if you get a phone message from a journalist make sure there is some kind of response. If you have promised information make sure that you follow up.
7. Stay on-the-record! The quickest way to disaster in any media situation is to go off-the-record or any of its variants. Unless you are a very savvy and aware media professional you will end up in deep trouble. Never say anything that you wouldn’t want to have appear on the news. For a very general guide to the Rules of Attribution see this post.
8. Stick to your story! In good or bad news situations know what you have to say and stick to it. Without being stupid about it, try to get your message into everything you say.
9. Don’t wait for them! The moment you realize that you are sitting on news get the word out. Remember the old adage, "Take the high ground, or they’ll bury you in the valley". Whether you are in trouble or you have done something great, being proactive allows you to get your message out before someone decides what the message is for you and you end up reeling from the blows.
10. Don’t get mad! Some coverage is bound to be off the mark or just downright wrong. If you lose your temper you will only make it worse. Your media crisis plan will contain strategies which will ensure that your message will get through in the long run.
While these tips might help you through a crisis they are not the final answer. You need a proper Crisis Communications Plan as part of a larger Strategic Communications Plan. While you could do it yourself (just like you could extract one of your own teeth if you had to) it is well worth it to hire a professional.