Handling Controversial Media Questions

Have you found yourself in the middle of a controversy? The way you deal with the media will have a big effect on how your business weathers the storm. Here are some tips on handling  questions from reporters and interviewers.

It’s really difficult to appreciate the First Amendment in the middle of a controversy, but the media has an important role to play. If you treat the media like “the enemy” your chances of surviving a controversy successfully are diminished.

Give up the notion of trying to control the media. You can only control your response to the media and how you communicate your message. You can manage a situation to a certain extent by being prepared and being responsive.

Establish a consistent point of contact where reporters can get your information and press updates. Have a designated person who can respond to press inquiries and logistical questions. It doesn’t have to be the public spokesperson, but someone who clearly knows what’s going on. Provide handouts giving reporters background information or answers to Frequently Asked Questions. This is an opportunity to get your story out. If you have established good working relationships with the media prior to the problem, you are way ahead of the game.

Important Do’s & Don’ts:

Don’t ever lie, mislead or stonewall: It will come back and hurt you every time!

Don’t speculate: Stick to the known facts. Don’t respond to hypothetical questions.

Stay Calm and Breathe! Don’t get angry or defensive, and don’t take? hostile questions personally.

Be direct and responsive: “No Comment” is not a response. It leaves the impression you are trying to hide something. It’s best to address questions, give whatever information you can and indicate a willingness to update the media as the story unfolds.

Acknowledge the human side: Express empathy, sympathy, concern and other appropriate feelings for any victims, families, employees, clients, or anyone else who may be directly impacted. The priorities should always be the safety and well being of the people involved.

Take the initiative: In a crisis or controversy, people are looking for leadership. State what action is being taken in response to the problem. Stay away from declarative comments about responsibility or causes until all the facts are known. Keep the media informed as much as possible. Remind your audience about your commitment to getting answers, and bridge back to your main message when appropriate.

Stay on track: Don’t let questions lead you astray. “Left field” questions don’t always require answers and they can be used to bridge back to your message. Some suggested responses: “I’m not familiar with that issue, but what is important here is…” or, “I’ve heard that issue raised before and we prefer to look at it this way…” or, “I can’t address those specifics until our investigation is completed, but in general, it usually works this way…” It’s also ok to say “I don’t know,” then commit to getting the information and get back to the reporter as soon as possible.

Get rid of the jargon: Translate complicated ideas, issues, or technologies into plain language. Use examples, metaphors, and analogies to reinforce the image you are trying to convey.

Put your important points first: Don’t bury the “lead!” Get to the meat of the matter as soon as possible. You can always back up and explain or give background information.

Lorraine Howell owns Media Skills Training where she teaches business owners, CEO’s, and management teams to speak with confidence and impact in an enjoyable and down-to-earth way. Sign up for Lorraine’s FREE e-tips and also receive her FREE 5 Steps to Start a New Business Conversation (& Get Results, Too!)” by visiting her website at www.mediaskillstraining.com.

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