Will your media reputation help during a crisis?

February 22, 2011

When an organization faces a crisis one of the biggest stresses is managing the media attention that can come with it. Often, the inclination is to “duck and cover” in the hope that the media interest will go away. Of course, staying silent only makes things worse. Just as important as what and how you communicate during a crisis is your communication with media when your organization is not in crisis mode. The reputation of your company or nonprofit will shape how media cover the story and how the public interprets it.

There are a number of aspects to corporate crisis communications. I’ve outlined the basics of creating a plan to cope with crisis before it hits in a previous post.

When it comes specifically to coping with the media attention associated with a crisis, the reputation you’ve cultivated through media relations and other public relations initiatives can help or hurt you at this critical time. If you’ve been responsive to media requests, extended yourself to get information to reporters quickly and treated various outlets equitably, your organization is more likely to weather the storm.

Yes, media strive to be objective, but humans are involved.  If you’ve built a positive relationship with reporters and news outlets, it will likely influence them to cover how you are handling the crisis more favourably. You don’t want the first impression of your company to be that of an organization in crisis. So strive to tell the story and good deeds of your organization on a regular basis.

Also, although it’s counterintuitive when you’re facing a crisis, make an effort to reach out to media before they reach out to you. Initiating media contact sends the message that you are transparent, concerned about getting the facts out and to dealing with the crisis proactively. Again, reporters are more likely to perceive your message positively if you reach out first than if they have to drag a few words out of  you after hounding you to make a comment. Silence leads to suspicion.

Pursuing a media relations program as part of routine business makes sense for a variety of reasons. When it comes to coping with a crisis, it’s like an insurance policy. If you have credibility and positive working relationships with reporters you’re several steps ahead of companies that don’t.

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*photo by Sasa Wolff (Flickr)
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