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There may be times when you become aware of a brewing crisis before it becomes public or you could be contacted by media for comment about it. Either way, you need to be prepared for how to handle the situation. It’s important to not ignore it, but rather address it and be as open and honest about the situation.

In this post, we provide you with tips on how to respond to and handle media pressure. Believe it or not, you can turn a negative into a positive experience through the media.

But before that, it’s important to understand the role of journalists in the media.

  • Journalists are taught to get all sides of the story and this is especially important in a story of huge public significance or something controversial.
  • Journalists aren’t ‘out to get you’, rather they want to present all sides of the story based on the facts and information they are given.
  • If a journalist contacts you for comment but you don’t have anything prepared, do not ignore them. Rather, take their contact details and tell them you will put them in touch with the relevant person or provide a statement once ready.
  • You do not work to media deadlines, but be reasonable to respond in a timely manner so your side of the story can be included.
  • If you don’t speak, the public and media assume you have something to hide.
  • People appreciate honestly and accept that mistakes are made. An apology or explanation go a long way.
  • If you don’t respond, the media will hound you for a response in the following days. They will assume you are hiding something and dig for any background. This no comment method has a greater chance of incorrect information being published and creating further negative publicity.
  • If you build a relationship with a reporter or media outlet and respond in the crisis, when you want to promote a positive story in the future, they will more likely take notice of your pitch.

Now, let’s talk about how you can respond to and handle media pressure.

A media statement is the safest way to respond in a crisis. You can control the information being released and there is little chance of being misquoted or taken out of context.

Essentially it is an official document containing a statement written by an organisation. It is sent to media outlets to be used for publication. It can be as long or short as you want it to be. It’s also a good idea to send it to key stakeholders too, so they understand the organisation’s position on the issue.

  • First step is to meet with the relevant manager/ spokesperson / media communications team on the issue to discuss the best approach.
  • Write out all the facts relating the crisis.
  • Investigate what is being said publicly about the crisis, this includes on social media channels.
  • Come up with a strategy on what you want to say and what you want to address that has already been said publicly.
  • Write the statement in a clear and concise way, that is easy to understand and not be misrepresented.
  • Get it approved by appropriate person in your organisation.
  • Release as soon as possible.
  • Post on your website and social media channels, email it direct to media organisations who have asked for comment.

There may be a time where you have to front the media and answer some tough questions as your organisation’s spokesperson. You may be the spokesperson or be providing support to the designated person. Either way, you need to come up with a strategy on what you are going to say. This is our suggested approach when responding to a crisis.

  • Identify the spokesperson.
  • Gather all related materials to prepare the spokesperson.
  • Identify a number of key messages you want to convey. 
  • Determine if you will simply read a prepared statement or answer questions as well.
  • Think of all possible questions (negative and positive) and have responses ready.

In a crisis situation, the worst thing you can do is remain silent. If you do, then you are likely to get even more negative publicity as journalists will look for any angle to write the story. You have a chance to stay in control of the situation by releasing information you want to be published. We recommend keeping the information flowing by doing the following.

  • Indicate to media you will be releasing a statement or organising a spokesperson to address the issue. Make sure this is done in a timely manner. The sooner you can comment, the better.
  • Give journalists a central contact point for the story. This could be the media and communications team if your organisation has one, otherwise a spokesperson.
  • Take reporters details: name, media outlet, contact phone number and email. This will come in handy when releasing the statement and any future press releases.
  • Once the crisis situation has calmed down, think of any positive stories relating to the issue that you can promote. For example, what has the organisation done to address the issues in the crisis and how has it made a difference?
  • Build a rapport with the reporter. You just never know when that relationship may come in handy for future media opportunities.

You should by now have an understanding on why you can’t shut down a crisis by staying silent. 

It is in your best interests to at the very least, release a statement. If you have a dedicated spokesperson who can front a press conference or answer questions in interviews, even better.

You have the chance to control the situation by responding and also release positive news moving forward.

Conversation Co

Conversation Co proudly acknowledges and celebrates First Peoples of Australia and their ongoing strength in upholding some of the world's oldest living cultures. We acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the lands throughout what is now Victoria – where we live, conduct pop-ups, and engage with our communities – and pay our respects to their Elders, past and present. Conversation Co acknowledges First Peoples' sovereignty has never been ceded. The strength, resilience and pride of First Peoples, their cultures, communities and identities continue to grow and thrive today despite the impact of colonisation and ongoing experiences of racism.

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