The media performs many functions that may have an impact on an organization. It can educate the public and surrounding community about an organization and its mission. It might also publicize successes and provide positive press. Unfortunately, however, the media is also quick to broadcast when things don’t go quite right.
Taking a proactive approach to risk management within an organization is important in helping avoid unwanted situations. Consider developing a tailored policy and procedure for handling the media both in day-to-day and crisis situations. Laying that foundation may help prepare for future interactions. The following are suggestions on how to work with the media and what to do should a crisis occur within an organization.
Tips for Working with the Media
- Develop a media policy for the organization - A written policy and procedure detailing the process for handling media inquiries can be a valuable tool for staff when questions arise. Information on the policy and process can be included in new employee orientation. Some organizations even develop press kits, which include background information and fact sheets about the organization.
- Designate a media relations person within the organization – Identify someone within the organization who can fill this role. It is important that this individual be trained how to respond to media inquiries, particularly in a crisis situation. Once a designated official spokesperson is identified, provide them with up-to-date information on the organization and any evolving issues or situations on a regular basis. When utilizing more than one spokesperson it is important that they “speak with one voice.” Consistency and accuracy are important when dealing with the media.
- Develop a positive relationship with local media contacts – Identify local media contacts and educate them about the organization and the services provided. Consider developing a list of reporters who would be likely to cover stories about the organization. Developing a good working relationship with the local community can often begin with positive press.
- Return calls from the media in a timely manner – It is true that you can’t be sure the media will get the facts right, but not returning phone calls or a consistent “no comment” is not recommended. Journalists may want instant answers, but it is more important to provide accurate answers. Efforts to get accurate information and then providing it on a deadline will help build respect and trust with media contacts.
- Correct misinformation as soon as possible – Some misinformation is unintentional. Perhaps a media representative misunderstood information that was provided. It is advisable to correct this as soon as possible. If additional information comes along after an interview or there was a misinterpretation of information, call in or email the correct information immediately.
What to do When a Crisis Occurs
- Act quickly to alert corporate executives (if applicable) – The media can broadcast a story across the state or country within seconds. It is important that executive members, including board members, are made aware of a situation that might attract press attention so they can respond appropriately to questions from outside the organization.
- Contact the insurance company and/or attorney – The situation may not end up as a claim but often the insurance company and attorney may offer advice on an approach with media representatives. They may also be able to offer loss control approaches to help mitigate damage or bad will that can often result in litigation.
- Get the facts – Interview involved staff to clarify exactly what occurred. Find out as many details as possible. In most cases, the media spokesperson provides general statements to the press, but the details may be helpful in crafting those general statements.
- Communicate with families – Before talking to the media, or as soon as possible afterwards, set up a system to communicate with members or those associated with the organization. It is important these individuals learn about potential problems that might bring negative press from the organization, as these stakeholders may sometimes be the biggest allies and supporters.
- Council members regarding confidentiality – Don’t forget HIPAA and the need to protect private health information! Remind employees about client confidentiality, privacy rules and release of information. Advise staff of the organization’s media policy, the steps to take when contacted by the press and to refer calls from media or others outside the organization to the designated spokesperson.
- Implement damage control – If members are not kept informed, they may feed misinformation to the media. To help minimize gossip and speculation, schedule a member meeting for the involved location or department to review what happened and emphasize the facts that have been discovered up to that point. Supervisors may also need to evaluate whether counseling services are advisable for employees, based on the circumstances of the crisis.
Proper preparation and planning can go a long way toward improving an organization’s image in the media. Consider performing an organization wide media audit to identify risks, liabilities, and exposures from the media’s point of view.
Ask the following:
- Is there a written policy for handling the media?
- Is there a designated media relations representative/spokesperson?
- Has this individual been trained specifically on how to deal with the media?
- Is there a mechanism in place to assure that the designated spokesperson is kept up-to-date with changes within the organization and is readily accessible in the event of a crisis situation?
- Do members within the organization know who was identified as the designated spokesperson?
- Has a proactive approach been taken in regards to media relations and are the key message(s) defined that the organization wants communicated?
Developing sound media relationships up front may help in crisis situations that attract public scrutiny. Being the primary source of information may also help guide what information is written. When it comes to managing the media, having a formal policy in place that outlines the organization’s response plans is crucial.