Here’s a common crisis communications question: Isn’t it best for a company to stave off reporters until all the facts are known and there’s “good news” to tell?
Stonewalling is usually as effective in holding off media coverage as pushing water uphill with a fork. Not only do your pants get wet but you look like a idiot.
News is going to happen with you or without you. It doesn’t matter if don’t have all the facts.
Executives and lawyers sometimes forget that news isn’t a conclusion. It’s a consumer product. It gets packaged to last as long on the shelf as possible. One headline follows another as new information is confirmed or disputed, as ramifications and fall-out are analyzed.
Media don’t have to get it all or even get it right. That’s why there’s another newspaper tomorrow. Or another web update in ten minutes.
Your response becomes an aspect of any ongoing crisis or controversy story. Sometimes it becomes the story.
To not participate in negative news is death by a thousand paper cuts. You force reporters to discover information, opinions and perspectives that will be rushed out, regardless of whatever contentions you have about accuracy or context. You likely just prolong and make more convoluted the bad publicity you’re trying to avoid.
Does that mean you have answers to every question? Of course not. But there’s a huge difference between hiding from the press and making a sincere effort to explain why you can’t answer a specific question, or why it isn’t appropriate for the CEO to be interviewed now. (But don’t say that “lawyers” won’t let you talk about things you’d otherwise be eager to explain. This will come back to bite you.)
Engaging the news media during an emerging PR crisis or controversy – including to respectfully decline comment – builds a foundation of credibility, even if you screwed up. You are acknowledging the legitimacy of the story and the media’s job. And that might buy you some breathing room to produce facts as quick as you confirm them, or at least be given the opportunity to respond to information and opinion before it’s rushed out there.
Good news or bad news, the rule is the same. Say only what you know to be true. But say it.
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