I heard a very interesting comment made on 570 News (Kitchener, Ontario, Canada) the other day (August 14, 2010). It basically said that in many respects the media – journalists etc – really don’t care too much about getting the right story or getting the story right. What they cared about most was getting listeners to their stations (TV, Radio etc) and magazine’s so that their organizations could promote ad space and increase sales. They could go to ‘XYZinc’ for advertising space and say, they have so many users and this would increase their sales and commissions and bonuses for everyone involved. The story itself wasn’t the main focus – sales were.
This got me thinking about the media and how it’s utilized in disaster and crisis situations; both I think are different. It got me wondering if the media does or would help when corporations have a disaster or crisis situations. I found that over the years – from memory only, not any scientific experiment, that there is a bit of a difference.
- Disaster – When I talk disaster in this sense, I’m talking about the major fires, the floods, hurricanes and tornadoes. By many accounts, the natural disasters. Of course, you could argue that fires can be man-made too but let’s not get into semantics. I find that the media is very compassionate and is seeking out the human interest stories and helping people get information to/from the disaster site. I recall many reporters repeating phone numbers or websites where people can get more information on the situation; such as family members of those in the affected area (or the impacted corporation for that matter). I’ve seen them put their lives in danger – under gun fire sometimes and help children and the elderly get out of harm’s way.
- Crisis – When it comes to corporate disasters, I found there is a difference. When a corporation has a crisis that makes the headlines, the journalists do begin to bring up all kinds of stats – from where is beyond me – and state things that are just rumour. Often, when people hear information immediately after the situation is announced, they take it as being true; even though it may just be conjecture or rumour. When the crisis disappears from the headlines and the truth comes out, the truth isn’t reported as thoroughly as the rumours; the stuff that was wrong. So, people are left believing in things that aren’t correct. If this done to – like the radio announcer said on the Kitchener radio station – ‘scare mongering’ or ‘bloat the incident’ in the public’s eye to gain listeners or to communicate information? Hmm….
What would the media do if you had a crisis situation? Not one that was community impacting as a result of a natural disaster but one where your corporation has done something wrong or has caused a crisis where many people are impacted? Would they be so helpful to you? Would they dig into your corporate reports (the ones that are public knowledge) and hunt around for a bigger story?
Still, I think the media can be of benefit when a disaster or crisis hits. And like the comments above, there can be pro’s and con’s to both. I’ve outlined a few pointers for each.
Pro’s of Media
- Can communicate emergency numbers or websites for information updates
- Can help provide facts or specifics to impacted parties
- Can be leveraged to communicate action steps or requirements
- The majority of journalists want to help to get a ‘human’ message out, utilize that relationship
- Can help bring a sense of calm to the crisis
- Help clarify positions and statements if you’ve built a relationship with them
- Treat them with respect – they are people too
- They have a job to do just as you do, so realize they are just doing their job – it’s not personal
Con’s of Media
- Can communicate rumours or blatant lies
- Will (and can) communicate conjecture on their part, for not having all the facts
- If you lie, they will jump on it (and then you’re done for…)
- If it gets personal, you’ll lose the battle, as they control the media
- If they aren’t updated in a timely fashion, conjecture and speculation will begin
- If you ‘wing it’, they will believe you’re hiding something or don’t know anything
- To a reporter, there is no such thing as ‘off the record’ – you’re always ‘on the record’
- If you look nervous, it will get reported as such
How you utilize the media is up to you but one thing is for sure, you’re situation will be reported and you can either have it reported in a positive light or a negative light. That strategy is up to you.
The new book by StoneRoad founder, A.Alex Fullick, MBCI, CBCP, CBRA, ITILv3, “Heads in the Sand: What Stops Corporations From Seeing Business Continuity as a Social Responsibility.” Available at www.stone-road.com **