Crisis comes – no invitation required

Late afternoon, I was driving home. I always Exit from ECP (East Coast Parkway, Singapore) and turn at Fort Road.

Suddenly at T junction, a Van banged from behind and pushed my car almost 100 feet farther. I was shocked. I got down and went to the Van behind. There were few passengers inside and they were trembling from shock. Later, I found the Van belongs to an institution of people with mental difficulties.

I was angry at the driver, how he can drive recklessly while carrying these people. He simply apologized. He called people from the office. While waiting for Police to come, I checked whether anyone inside the Van was injured. No visible signs of injury (no bleeding or bone injury). Thank God.

What happens in situations like these!

Your tour bus driver is pulled aside and ticketed for drunken driving while taking a busload of elderly people to Elderly Care Centre.

A 4-year-old girl drowns in a swimming pool while the lifeguard who was supposed to be on duty was talking with his girlfriend in the parking lot.

A kitchen crew retaliates against an obnoxious diner by pouring an unspeakable body fluid into the diner’s soup—and gets caught when the diner calls police.

It could happen to you. And just when you think it couldn’t possibly get any worse, there’s a reporter on line two.

This how you should follow during a crisis:

  1. Manage flow of information – Have a crisis communications plan in place to control the flow of information. Appoint a spokesperson for speaking with the media. Ensure your employees understand who is responsible for speaking with the media.
  2. Keep the Media Wolves at Bay – Tell the truth, tell it all and tell it fast.
  3. Never say “no comment” – try to take control of the story and offer the media your side. “No comment” renders you powerless over your own story. It invites reporters to talk to other people who might not hesitate to put their spin on your issue. Worse yet, it makes you look wimpy.
  4. Use Bridging techniques – Bridging is valuable because it helps you get your main point across when you’re asked a question you don’t want to answer. You “bridge” from the reporter’s question to your message as subtly as possible. For example, “I don’t have all the facts to be able to answer that question accurately. But I can tell you that…” Then continue with your key point. Or, “I agree we’ve got a problem and I’d like to go directly to our solution.” Then state your key point.
  5. Get ready for an interview – make three or four most important points you want to get across to the reporter.
  6. When you are not yet ready or unsure, do not talk off the record. Ask for appointment at another time. There’s nothing wrong with telling reporters you don’t know the answer to a question, or that you need time to track down the information they need. Ask about their deadline, then return the call promptly.
  7. If a reporter calls about a crisis involving your business that you know nothing about, do not jump to respond. Let reporter explain what the story is about. Ask what angle they are taking and who they already have spoken to.
  8. Keep your cool – this is not the time to hang up on a reporter, ordering a TV camera crew off the property or punchingc out a photographer.
  9. Check reporter’s notes whether any errors crept in – do not allow it to go as it is. Always correct errors.
  10. Dump all the bad news at once.
  11. Return reporters’ phone calls immediately.

At times, the reporters get hostile (they have a bad day, today).
When a reporter asks a tough, angry, hostile question, you keep cool and respond.  “I wouldn’t use that choice of words. If you are asking whether (rephrase the question), I can tell you that…” Or, “Your question points out a common misconception we hear all the time. The real problem is…” Then restate the problem.

Suresh Shah, M.D., Pathfinders Enterprise

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