Oliver Druttman, brand reputation director at Launch, explains how to balance tight journalist deadlines with crafting the right crisis response.
The print deadline. How I long for the print deadline… Hours, if not days, of notice on a story running, providing ample time to investigate and formulate a statement. Sadly, these days media enquiries into the issues and crisis press office invariably demand a statement immediately.
“The story’s written and is about to go online” we’re told. I found myself bartering recently with an online editor to please hold off from publishing the story until we’ve had a chance to respond, and to kindly give us a bit longer than 30 minutes to respond. “45 minutes”, I pleaded. “Hmm, you can have 35”, I was told.
The difficulty is the mismatch between the speed at which stories break and are published online, and the speed (or lack of it in some cases) of a comms team’s ability to decipher from the operations team exactly what has happened in order to formulate a response (not to mention getting it approved).
In a world of instant news gratification, is a comms team justified in taking hours, if not days, to find out what happened and formulate a response? Isn’t that what the crisis manual is for?
Less haste, more speed
Speed is of the essence when it comes to issues management, as we know. But go too soon with your statement and you risk inaccuracy. Go generically with an off-the-rack statement and you risk looking insensitive and overly-corporate. Miss the boat altogether and risk the gut-wrenching line “X brand was contacted for a statement but did not reply”, which looks weaselly, apathetic and inefficient.
So are journalists right to demand statements back from us instantly? Is that a reasonable expectation and should we, as comms teams, be more capable of fielding these enquiries and drafting statements faster?
Before addressing that, a quick look at why it can take time to finalise a statement on an issue. Invariably, it’s due to the complexity of modern organisations and the multitude of parties who need to be involved.
Entire teams of people – often in different geographies and with different remits – need to be contacted with a request to investigate a specific incident. Customer service teams. Dedicated safety teams. Sometimes security personnel. Sometimes colleagues. Often individuals need to be tracked down out of hours and spoken to in order to get the facts from ‘our’ side. No easy feat.
Fortunately, there’s plenty we can do as comms teams to help ourselves (and our journalist chums on the other side of the fence) with pulling together statements that are accurate, thoughtful, diligent and timely.
Yes, it’s a case of keeping the issues manual up to date. And it’s thinking creatively about different scenarios that could occur and making sure we have a template response in place as a starter for 10.
The comms team’s visibility in the organisation
But we can do more than that. We work in the business of communications and – whether as an agency or in-house team – we can always do more to help those colleagues on whose responsiveness we depend to better understand what we do, how we do it and why their swiftness in cooperation is so gratefully received when we’re under the cosh from a journalist.
Issues and crisis management is a fascinating way to get to know a business. We’re often exposed to layers and layers of our client’s people – from legal teams to product teams, the guard on the front gate to the CEO.
It’s therefore our duty to make sure we cultivate relationships with those teams outside the handling of a specific incident. Going out of our way to meet these people and explain to them how we work and that we depend on them in times of issues and crises is vital in laying the foundations for successful and effective issues management.
Investing in those relationships sooner rather than later will pay dividends.
To find out more about how to handle a crisis situation, download our white paper The four steps to building a foolproof crisis comms response by filling in the form below
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