Page 1 of 2
Four years ago, I researched and created the following process for developing a crisis communications plan. That plan was printed in LCT Magazine in July 2009. I have refreshed the process to make it current.
Here is a common scenario for operators following the stretch limousine fire in San Francisco on May 4:
• • •
Your phone beeps, “News channel 6 wants to do an interview with you about safe transportation in limousines,” says your reservationist.
• • •
Do you take the call? That stern voice in the back of your head says, “Be careful!” But the other happy voice says, “Of course you do. On air time with your company featured as an expert on safe limousine transportation is worth lots.” Or is it?
• • •
You go ahead and give the interview. You answer the questions of the cute, perky, little reporter. She tells you it will air tonight at six.
• • •
At six, you put the television on in the office and watch the news leading up to your story and the teaser says, “Is riding in a limousine really safe or would you be better off driving yourself?”
• • •
All of a sudden the stern voice is back saying, “You should have listened to me.”
Dealing with the media is a learned talent. Watch any politician give non-answers to very specific questions and you will realize the value of such talent. A reporter who recently called me for an on-air interview after the terrible limousine fire in California told me that I needed to trust the media when I declined to speculate on the cause of the accident. I just laughed at the irony of that.
As a reporter, I can write an accurate report using the exact words a person said, and depending on the context of the quote, can change something very positive into something negative or to what I wanted it to be. I would never intentionally misuse my interviewee’s context, but there are those who do.
The media consists of people who have opinions that may differ from yours. They are trained to look at the camera the correct way when speaking. They know how to put intonation in their voices to emphasize their points. We have all seen the cute little reporter interviewing the guy and all you see of him is his profile with the giant nose. When this guy does look at the camera, his eyes are darting back and forth and you are surprised to see that “sneaky eyes” (when they pan down to his collar) is a priest. You get my point.
Rarely, do people naturally look good talking on camera. Reporters and actors go to school for this. Be careful. Even if the piece of the story you are giving is positive, when it is juxtaposed next to a fire or an accident, your company could be misperceived as the company it happened to. I often have the news on in my office without the volume. If I looked up and saw that I could easily be confused and I probably would not have time to turn up the volume before they moved on to the next piece.
The things you say to the media, which are taken out of context, could have larger legs than you ever anticipated. For example, if I were to say to a reporter after a few limousines had blow outs which caused injuries on a highway, “The only way to prevent this from occurring is to have run flat tires!” My words could then be used by regulators to show that the law should be changed to require that all limousines must have run flat tires. We all know this is ludicrous but I said it and now I need to back pedal and try to fix it. The ramifications of my words can reach farther than I ever anticipated.