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Communication in Crisis / Media communication

Media communication

The managament of the company in crisis must cooperate with the media. If they do not do so, they will lose the chance to have an impact on events and interpretations. If they do not inform the journalists, the latter will chase the story: they will visit workers, the people concerned and victims and they will prepare their own narratives according to those heard. Like it or not, the public opinion is shaped by their reports. Therefore, it is best for the company to cooperate and behave proactively, using its former media relations.

The principles of communication with the media

Whether they came from the biggest television channel or a small Internet newspaper, journalists should be treated equally! Everyone deserves the same treatment. Their work should be facilitated by setting up press roooms equipped with appropriate technology, computers, coffee and sandwiches.

The flow of information should be managed by the designated representative of the company (press officer, head of communications, public relations director, etc.) but at intervals other managers should be available as well. Every media representative should be told the same, otherwise the interests of the company can easily fall prey to the explosing rivalry for information. Cooperation is a good investment! In the spirit of proactivity they should hear the latest news from the company. The correct and predictable behavior is important: to keep to the deadlines, to call back the journalists, to talk to them so that they know the position of the company, and to listen to them, because they can help as well. In conversations, communications and interviews those panels, technical terms and keywords should be used that the communication team has selected for use. Journalists take this terminology very often. It is essential to put it simply. If they do not understand it, readers and TV viewers will not understand either.

The interest is biggest in the first few hours. During this time, the journalist is interested in what happened, if there are victims, how big the damage is and if there is direct threat. A smart communicator tells what they know at this point. Later, the question "why did it happen" comes to the foreground. Then, the media should be assisted with statistics, background information and data because what they do not get from the company, they will obtain from other sources (the internet, competitors etc). This is followed by the last phase of evaluation, conclusions and the identification of those responsible.

Inner communication

Crisis management cannot be performed without internal communication. Employees should be informed at the same time, in smaller groups if necessary. They should be informed about what happened to whom, what the company does now and will do later. The staff should be prepared to expect the appearance of journalists (interviews, photo shoots, editing images). The position of the compay should be explained, otherwise they will not have anything to relate to, and in a sharp situation they will give their own opinion. Clarify, if they are obliged to respond to questions.

The message map

A document containing the prepared answers for the potential questions of the media and the general public is called a message map. It includes the different target groups, the list of possible questions and problems, the different types of questions (for example difficult issues, technical issues, emotional issues), the key messages developed by the crisis team as well as the concerning supporting information, facts and documents. During the presentation of the key messages easily understandable, visual solutions (charts, graphs) are highly important. Credibility can be enhanced if referring to the opinion and data of a neutral third party.

Announcements and interviews

Announcements are an effective tool to influence the public opinion. In case of a crisis, as we hear about what happened, it is worth preparing an announcement. Typically, at this time there are not enough details to hold a press conference, or there is simply not enough time to organize it. Later on, the latest major news can be shared with the public in this way too. A professionally compiled announcement is short and concise, clearly worded and understandable. It should be no longer than one page.

The communications staff and managers often need to be available for journalists, mostly as interviewees. This situation is typical when there are not enough details or not very high potential interest. It is important that the company keeps the situation under control. The time and venue should be specified, as well as the newspapers and journalists the company intends to communicate to.

Contrary to common belief interviews are not about making friends or responding to questions but about information and the delivery of the messages of the company. Answers should be prepared to the difficult and uncomfortable questions. If these are repeatedly asked, the same answers should be given, otherwise more will be communicated than necessary. In an interview situation, the key sentences should be said right at the beginning. It is necessary to speak clearly and to avoid complicated technological jargon.

The order of press statements

Its aim is to coordinate the communications of the company in a crisis situation. In the company everyone needs to know who, when and about what is entitled to communicate press statements. It is best if the messages intended for the media and the general public are always communicated by the same person (press officer, spokesperson). Occasionally others may as well speak in order to reach special target groups.

Press conferences

A press conference is an opportunity to tell our position, to reach the appointed target groups and to shape public opinion. It should be organized when there is a demand for it and the company actually has details to say. At other times it is enough to satisfy the needs of journalists for interviews. A press conference is preceded by significant preparatory work (location, technology, etc). Journalists should be invited personally on the basis of the press list. Short summaries and background materials are prepared and previous releases may be distributed. A press conference should be led by a representative of the company who is experienced with the media. This person should know how to dress properly, since for example in the case of a disaster a $3,000 Boss suit is not necessarily the best option. This person should be able to answer the questions briefly and clearly, in accordance with the crisis communications strategy of the company. It is important for them to know that it is allowed to say ‘I do not know’ or, ‘we don’t have sufficient information regarding this’. As this is often a better, more honest response than unsubstantiated information.

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A Társadalominformatika: moduláris tananyagok, interdiszciplináris tartalom- és tudásmenedzsment rendszerek fejlesztése az Európai Unió támogatásával, az Európai Szociális Alap társfinanszírozásával, az ELTE TÁMOP 4.1.2.A/1-11/1-2011-0056 projekt keretében valósult meg.
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