Building Trust, Integrity and Credibility with Stakeholders and the Media

The general public, your stakeholders and the media will determine if you are trustworthy as a crisis communicator and sour ce for their stories.

• Reporters need to know if you are competent. To be seen as relevant, you must be knowledgeable and have a level of technical expertise to explain what is happening during a crisis. However, you do not want an analytical, teclmical person who has few social and interpersonal skills explaining what happened to the media. At least, not at first, although you may use them later as a subject-matter expert.

You do not want the president of your enterprise explaining why a sewer svstern design led to an explosion and release of harmful gasses. Leave that to a person that understands such systems. Nor do you want an executive apologizing for an incident who caimot show sincerity, compassion, empathy and real concern.

Your communicator during a crisis must be able to explain what happened in relatable and understandable language that behaviorallv shows concern, empathy and compassion. Provide explanations in language my SO-year-old grandmother with a sixth-grade education can understand. Communicators must have a robust set of rapport-building and interpersonal skills to deliver such messages. They must be comfortable in front of a camera.They must be able to relate to how others feel in the situation.

• You must be seen and heard as objective and fair in your analysis and communications. The strategy is not to “to win.” Instead, vou are speaking to explain, educate and inform, answer tough questions and reassure the stakeholders that vou have the situation under control. When a com-


municator approaches a crisis with anything less than transparency, openness and total honesty, no one will be capable of believing them to be objective and fair. You are not “out to win;” your job is to explain, inform and educate the audiences. The best communicators are the best teachers.

When vou demonstrate consistencv in vour messaging and bv vour behav- iors and show goodwill in vour sharing of information, vou are behaviorallv shouting concern and care for others in the short- and long-term.

There is no dishonor in admitting you do not know an answer when dealing until reporters. When you tell the media and the public, “I don't know,” you are human. You must commit to getting the answer quickly, though. Then, when you get the response, you must then share it with all your audiences. This behavior enhances your trust and credibility because you kept your word.

  • You will lose credibility when you do not keep your promises, do not meet deadlines you set and do not deliver on your commitments. If you tell the media you will hold a briefing at a specific time and for whatever reason you cannot meet the promise, you should still show up and explain why you are not yet ready to brief them.
  • How do you know you are losing credibility? Watch for changes in the way reporters treat you. When reporters start going around you to other sources inside your organization and share information anonvmouslv, vour credibility is minimal.

Appendix I provides some additional advice on how to work more effectively with reporters.

During and After a Crisis

If the crisis or emergency continues or matures, you will be conducting media briefings, interviews and possibly press conferences, which are the main entree of the bear’s meal. In press conferences and briefings, you share the verifiable and most up-to-date facts and data you have acquired. Examples of how to prepare, conduct and manage the aftermath of the interview are provided in Appendix H.

When posting statements, if you are using Twitter, use your organization’s verified handle and choose a hashtag carefully, such as #EventABCCampus. Use social media information in emails and news releases. Use this information to direct the media to your Twitter and Facebook accounts and website for further background information and updates.

Realistically, vou do not want anyone and everyone in a crisis to be talking to the media or the stakeholders. You want only trained and practiced spokespeople doing that job. There are occasions when your president or chief executive will need to address the media and the public. Using executives as spokespeople depends on the severe nature of the event.

Now is die time to ensure that your organization has a clearly outlined media policy. Be sure to have written and leadership-agreed-to protocols about who can speak for your institution. The guidance should tell your employees who are not spokespeople how to direct a media inquiry to your officially designated spokespeople.

You also need a well-defined social media policy tailored to your organizational needs. We recommend consulting with social media consultants and institutions relevant to your business who have been successful in deploying social media.

The dessert on the bear's menu is the media interactions in the days and weeks following the crisis. You know more about what happened. Perhaps you now understand why the event occurred. Maybe you can update the media on the condition of the people involved in the situation. Even days and weeks after the event, you can and should expect “aftershocks.”

Aftershocks are inquiries and questions from reporters doing more in-depth and investigative reporting after the incident has been resolved. Think of such programs as 60 Minutes and 20/20 as examples of media coverage that goes more in-depth. The questions asked by these reporters will be very pointed and seek information you said would be available after the incident investigation. At this time, reporters will want to know how well the organization is recovering, what went wrong, how those that were affected are recovering, whv the crisis occur red and, importantly, what is being done to prevent such an event in the future.

You will have time after the crisis winds down to breathe, organize data, validate information, understand the lessons learned and prepare for the more in- depth interviews as the media engages you in aftershock questions. Use this time wisely to prepare yourself. Even organizations that handled the crisis well can and do stumble at this stage. Be mindful that on each anniversary of a significant crisis event, you can expect the media to contact you for a “reaction” or “your memories or thoughts” about the event.

Moving Forward

Our final word of advice: get started now. When you plan, train and exercise for the worst possible events that can happen to you and your organization, you are prepared as well as you can be. Right now is the time to prepare your selves to feed the bears. Bears do not forgive vou when thev miss a meal, and vou never know when they will come calling.


In the end, perhaps the best-laid plans will require us to “improvise, adapt and overcome.” However, maybe now we can do so with much more confidence.


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