Justin Saia

By Justin Saia

Dealing with the Media During Turbulent Times

Following on from the panel discussion on crisis management that sparked my previous blog crisis planning during turbulent times, I’m now going to explore dealing with the media during turbulent times; how best to work with them and how to build better relationships that ultimately reflect positively on an organisation.

The media – how should we work with them?

The media should not be seen as adversarial. The media will always have perhaps the largest and cheapest mouthpiece to get out a story or message and they will almost always have the last word on any topic because of the unique platform they possess. Instead, view the media as a primary means to promoting your company’s goals and objectives.

Remember, members of the media have a job to perform just like you. They’ve been tasked with telling a story about what’s going on from a non-biased perspective. They are charged with telling all sides of the story, including yours. If you maintain a hostile posture toward the media or remain sequestered in a corporate bunker somewhere hoping to ride out the storm, your voice and subsequently, your perspective will not colour and contextualise a story about your business that is almost certain to get written or broadcast. So, be a part of the story. Provide the valuable context, colour, and commentary the public and your stakeholders deserve to hear. Challenge the media to get the story right…the whole story. “Declining to comment” should always be seen as a failed opportunity to chronicle your views on a particular topic.

The media – how do we build better relationships with them?

To put it simply – pie is key. I do mean pie in the literal sense – sweet, flaky, gooey pie. Any kind will do (e.g. pecan, apple, pumpkin, key lime). To affirm trust, confidence and comfort (all cornerstones of a solid relationship) with someone, you have to break bread with them.

Relationships are paramount when it comes to managing the media and relationships take time to develop. Don’t attempt to start a dialogue and a relationship with members of the media in the midst of a crisis or when you need to sell a positive news story about your company. Start building a relationship with members of the media the day you arrive on the job. If you arrive at a company that has had a tepid past relationship with the media, use your recent arrival on the scene as motive to  begin to change the narrative. Spend an hour over a slice of pie at the nearest diner with that local reporter you’ve been wanting to win over and you might be surprised by just how much you both have in common.

Getting to know members of the media personally, developing a level of trust and rapport, and opening a regular dialogue during normal business times will pay massive dividends when crisis strikes. Your ability to steer the conversation, correct erroneous reporting, and influence the outcomes of stories is only a slice of pie away.

What about social media during a crisis?

Take great care to protect your marketing and brand channels during a crisis. In most cases, business must continue to operate as usual in the throes of a crisis. Rather than polluting your brand channels with negative information or sensitising all of your customers to a problem you’ve caused, invite interested parties to seek out more information on dedicated crisis response channels through redirect links from main brand channels.

Crisis response channel are ghost sites/accounts (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, corporate websites) you’ve set up in advance of a crisis and need only to populate with relevant information about the issues you are grappling with at the present time. They remain dormant until the time you need them in a crisis. You should have dedicated marketing and communications professionals standing by to manage these alternative channels when crisis strikes.

Can an organisation come out of a crisis in better shape than when it when into the crisis?

Absolutely! The story of BP and its response and subsequent recovery from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill are a testament to exactly this. Much of the spill was attributed to a lax culture of safety across the oil and gas industry. The culture at BP has evolved around safety in a positive way. Every employee is empowered to stop the job, no matter how big or small the task at hand and no matter the cost to the company of such a stoppage. Employees are expected to hold hand rails when ascending/descending staircases, report the occurrence of coffee spills on the floor, and attend mandatory office ergonomics and driver safety training courses. These are all positive outcomes.

Further, the oil and gas industry as a whole was poorly equipped to deal with a modern day oil spill, particularly of the magnitude of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The industry was largely reliant on decades old technology dating back to the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska (e.g. booms, skimmers, dispersants, in situ burning). Since Exxon Valdez, there had been a limited number of large scale oil spills to drive investment in new technologies to aid in oil spill cleanup. The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico ultimately forced ingenuity, creativity, innovation, and investment in new techniques, methodologies, and equipment for oil spill cleanup. Today, the industry stands better prepared than ever before to deal with the complexities and challenges of another large scale oil spill. Sadly, it is a shame that investment often only happens after a crisis event.

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