While human nature may tempt us into an answer, it is our pragmatic side that must intervene. Do not give an answer right away and do not speculate. Being wrong can be news itself. The Oscars had the wrong host, his running mate is the wrong candidate, her actions during last night’s concert were wrong, etc.
Before the facts are gathered all we are doing is speculating. Speculation usually consists of inaccuracies and, worst of all, early accusations. Even before we can think about releasing the information there is a series of questions we need to go through. It is imperative that the following questions are answered before we release any information. What do we know? Are we listening to the media’s story about the incident or do we know something else? If we know something else, who told us? Who within the organization have we discussed this information with and do all the relevant parties know of this incident?
Set the media’s expectations and you will control the message. For example, your first response is, “We’re looking into it and once we have the information needed we will release it to you.” And truthfully, the media understands this answer, but they might have liked the quick, uneducated response better.
Your second response or distributed message is how the information will be given, “We will be releasing a statement, we will be holding a press conference, we will be scheduling one-on-one interviews…”
Then in your messaging you give an account of the incident and, hopefully, talk about a solution or an answer to the problem.
No matter the crisis situation it is important to let the media know as soon as they start calling and emailing that you are looking into the matter. Giving a response too early and without all the facts can hurt the outcome of the incident, affect people’s lives and increase panic among reporters and the community.
As a leader, it is your job to make your organization look better and following these steps provides the correct recipe to do just that in any crisis situation.
When a crisis occurs, the media expects answers immediately.
However, when crises occur, answers are seldom readily available. You must refrain from providing false information, yet you must let the media know that you ARE looking for answers. A typical phrase may be, “We are currently gathering all the facts of the incident and plan to distribute the information once the process has been concluded.”
Timeliness is not as important as accuracy.
As a public relations practitioner, you must resist the temptation to pacify the media by releasing quick information. Ensure that all information disseminated from your organization is accurate—even if it is not as timely as the media would like.
When tempted to answer a question quickly—and speculatively, consider the repercussions.
Untrue answers can worsen a crisis. And with the presence of social media, the crisis can instantly be heightened by one poorly thought out answer.
Exhaust all the necessary resources to collect as many facts as possible.
The CEO, the COO, the legal branch of your organization, and the supervisor of the area under scrutiny should all be engaged and on the same page with respect to messaging. Consulting external resources, such as government authorities and other parties affected by the crisis, can also be helpful in obtaining the facts.
When gathering facts, consider what needs to be released.
Have an end result in mind—a solution to the crisis—when collecting and, ultimately, reporting the facts of a crisis.