Communicating in a Crisis – Your Audience

The initial response in the first hour of a crisis is critical and sets the tone for how this crisis will play out in the public eye.  This is the time where you need to gain the trust of your audience and failing to do this may have a more negative impact than the crisis itself.

There are a number of audiences you will need to be in touch with in times of a crisis and here are a few key ones to consider.

 Family – Always inform those directly affected first.  If there has been an accident at work that has affected an individual, the immediate family must be notified before anyone.  You do not want them to be hearing any bad news from a third party or on the news.

Employees – The one rule that applies here is – deliver bad news to everyone all at once.  Why is this important?  Firstly, it stifles rumours and speculation.  Secondly employees would be the first go-to contacts for anyone with questions so they need the facts.  While they may not be authorized to speak to media, you need your team on board with the situation and they can’t do that if they are in the dark.  Deliver the news in person (if you can), speak only to the facts, allow questions and use this opportunity to remind your employees and reinforce your media and social media protocol.

Always follow up with a concise written statement.  Bad news takes longer to process and some may not have fully grasped the situation and a written statement, however brief, minimises any confusion or misunderstanding around what was said.  Plan regular communication to establish and maintain trust.

Other Stakeholders –this could be shareholders, member associations, government…. Similar to internal audiences, your key stakeholders need to be notified by you, not the media or another third party.  The number, location and breadth of stakeholders varies business to business however the most effective communication in the case of a crisis is in writing.  Prepare a concise statement with facts only, leaving out any speculation and be sure to promise (and keep the promise) that you will update your stakeholders as new information comes to hand.

Media – the media has a vital role to play and can be a strong ally during a crisis, assisting in getting your messages out accurately and quickly.  During a crisis the media will usually be sympathetic in the initial stage however being too slow to respond or failing to communicate effectively and promptly may be interpreted as having a hidden agenda and could make the situation worse.  At this stage, holding statements are vital regardless of what type of crisis or who is to blame. The media has an obligation to report a story and if they don’t get the information from you, they will go somewhere else and it may not be the message you want communicated.  Finally, establish a schedule for information to be released as the crisis unfolds.

It is particularly difficult to think as clearly as you should in the throes of a crisis.  If you have a Crisis Communications Plan, then at least you will be one step ahead.  If you don’t, you will be busy planning and trying to communicate at the same time and that can only add pressure you and your team don’t need.  At the least, make sure you have a sounding board, and preferable a communications professional, to double check messaging before it is distributed.  Poor communication during a crisis, can sometimes be worse than the crisis itself.

The Top 5 Mistakes Spokespeople Make

The objective of any media interview is for you a company spokesperson, individual and brand to be portrayed in the best possible light.  However, there are some really common mistakes that spokespeople continue to make and once the damage is done, you can’t erase it.


Mistake #1 – Not Preparing

You wouldn’t walk into a meeting without being prepared so why do this for a media interview?  Without taking the time to research the media outlet and prepare you are allowing yourself to walk into the firing line without any protection.  What ultimately happens is you will find yourself scrambling at the first difficult question.  It will throw you off your game and spiral out of control with your confidence waning as the interview progresses and your reputation in tatters  Remedy:  Putting time into understanding the media outlet, their audience, their angle and your objectives will ensure the best possible outcome.

Mistake #2 – Not Understanding Your Audience

This is a common mistake on two fronts.  Firstly, agreeing to do an interview with an outlet that doesn’t reach your audience and secondly, not speaking in a way your audience can relate.  I have seen so many interviews that have completely lost the audience because the spokesperson has used jargon or answered a question loaded with facts and figures that make people’s eyes glaze over, completely losing your audience (example – John Hewson, the cake and the GST interview – google it if you are too young to remember this one!).  Remedy: If the media outlet does not reach your audience, find one that does.  If your messages are figure heavy then find a way you can express this so the audience can relate for example, ‘you can get this for the price of a weekly cup of coffee’.


Mistake #3 – Not Developing Your Messages

If you don’t take the time to prepare the key messages you want to get across in the interview, then don’t bother doing the interview.  What is the point of answering a raft of media questions if you don’t get your own messages across?  The journalist may get what they want but you have completely wasted your time.  Remedy:  Work on 1-3 key messages, rehearse and find a way to weave them into your answers.  Most politicians are masters at getting their message across regardless of the question – you can too.


Mistake #4 – Thinking – I won’t get asked that question

This almost happened to a client of mine.  I asked him to work on addressing a negative issue that was in the limelight years before but had been resolved.  My client said, “Don’t worry, they won’t ask about that, it happened ages ago”.  With a live interview on a television morning program I just couldn’t let him take the chance.  So, I convinced him that it wouldn’t hurt to rehearse an answer just in case.  The interview went smoothly but they did ask that question and my client handled it well, maintaining his credibility and putting the audience at ease. Had he not prepared, he would have lost all credibility.   Remedy:  Developing a ‘worst-case-scenario’ line of questioning and devising ideal responses, is another good way to ensure you don’t become a deer in headlights and you maintain your reputation and credibility.


Mistake #5 – Winging it

You wouldn’t be able to do your job without some education or training. The same goes for an interview.  Even the charismatic CEO who is a ‘natural’ in front of audiences can find themselves fumbling through an interview at the first tricky question or using body language contrary to what they are saying. A poor performance in an interview can do irreparable damage to an individual’s or company’s reputation.  You can’t risk it, unless you are prepared to lose it.  Remedy:  Get a professional media trainer to take you through the hard questions, getting your messages right and advising you on technique such as body language and voice projection.   It will be the best investment you make in yourself and your organisation.


Positive exposure through the media is, because of the in-built credibility of the media itself, of much more benefit than paid advertising and costs virtually nothing except time.  Invest wisely.


10 Tips For A Giving A Great T.V. Interview

Television interviews are an effective way to create awareness about your brand, manage a crisis and put a human face to your company name. The internet is brimming with examples of failed interviews, and even the media is quick to poke fun at on-air faux pas, proving that television can be one of the most challenging interview scenarios to master, even for the pros. Media training helps you to develop the skills you need to give a great interview, and these are my top ten tips to ensure your small-screen debut is a hit…

1. Know Your Objectives.

Before you start diving enthusiastically into the world of lights and cameras, consider whether doing a TV interview will actually help achieve your objectives, and if so how can you measure its success? Have your goals clearly written out and keep them in mind when forming your key messages and selecting the right programs to appear on.

2. Do Your Homework.

Do your research into the program, its target audience and the background of the reporter. Finding out the angle or perspective the reporter is planning to approach the interview with is essential to being prepared for the kinds of questions they’re going to ask. It will also help you decide if this interview opportunity is really right for you – not all publicity is necessarily good publicity.

3. Speak Their Language

Be aware of the show’s audience and tailor your messages to speak to that audience. Are they busy parents getting the family ready in morning, or business owners keeping an eye on the stock market? Whoever is listening, speak in a way that relates to them and their interests. Avoid using industry jargon and too many fact and figures, and be ready with at least one quotable grab that will stick in people’s minds and be repeated in the media.

4. Build Key Messages.

Begin to build your key messages and work on techniques to convey those messages in a cohesive, effective way. What are the main points you really want to get across? How will you respond to tough questions? Compile a comprehensive list of potential questions – from the questions you really want to be asked right down to down to the ones you really don’t want to be asked. The journalist will have done their research thoroughly, so be prepared for absolutely anything.

5. Mind Your Body Language

The words we say are important but they only count for about 7% of our communication. A massive 55% of our communication comes from our body language, and 38% from our vocal tone and expression. The main areas to be aware of are posture, eye contact, and hand gestures. Some key points to remember:

  • Keep an open posture; avoid looking “hunched over” and other closed-off poses.
  • Lean forward and keep good eye contact with the interviewer to show you are engaged.
  • Movements should be minimal and natural. Use hand gestures to complement your words without over-gesticulating.
  • Be mindful of fidgeting or moving around in the seat too much, as this will distract the viewer.
  • Relax. Being on television can be a daunting experience even for the most confident speakers, but the best way to make a good impression on the viewers is to appear as if you do it all time. The trick is to fake it till you make it.

6. Be “On-Air” from the Start

Be in interview-mode from the get-go. That means being professional, punctual and polite at all times. Be mindful of any recording equipment in the room as it could be switched on before and after the actual interview. Basically, if you don’t want something to appear on the news, then keep it to yourself.

7. Accentuate the Positive

Try using affirmative statements such as “I believe that…” instead of negatively charged statements like “I wouldn’t say that…” as this puts your message in a more positive frame of mind with the audience. Be enthusiastic and passionate about your topic and speak as though you’re truly interested in what you’re saying – TV is a monotone-free zone! If the topic is serious or sombre, speak in a neutral tone but remain relaxed and engaging rather than tense and uneasy.

8. Keep Calm and Carry On

We’ve all heard the stories of interviews gone wrong – the reporter throws a question you weren’t prepared for, or suddenly takes an accusatory position or argument. The best way to handle a curveball is with grace and positivity. Never mirror aggression or negativity, no matter how frustrated you may feel, maintain neutral and patient manner, and draw everything back to you key messages. If you’re not 100% sure about something, don’t speculate or say “no comment.” Say you don’t know at this time and offer to get back to interviewer with more information later, and follow through on that.

9. Monitor Your Feedback

Monitor public reaction while the story is on air and after. Keep your eye on all your social media pages as well as online mentions of your company or the interview. If the feedback is mostly positive, this gives you the opportunity to start re-tweeting and thanking the public for all their support. It also means you can engage your public in a discussion of your message while the topic is still fresh in people’s minds. If feedback is negative, have your public relations team monitor the issues now and respond promptly and appropriately – don’t wait for an overflow of bad press to build up overnight.

10. Give Thanks to the Journalist

If the story was good, be sure to follow up with a note or phone call to the journalist to say thank you. Not only will the journalist appreciate it, they will also be more likely to remember you and can become a valuable contact for future press coverage.




5 Good Reasons to Turn Down a Media Interview

In my 20 something years in PR, I could count on one hand the times I have advised a client to turn down a media interview, or at least advised them not respond to a story.  It’s a rarity, especially working in the PR world where we embrace publicity with all our might. However, there are valid times when refusing an interview will be a far more effective move and one that will minimise or avoid reputational damage.    From the outset I have to be very clear that I am not advocating a “no comment” response (there is never a time when this response is appropriate) but you can turn down an interview yet still respond.

Here’s how:

1. Its not your area of expertise

I have been approached in the past by media asking me to provide expertise around various topics.  While there may be a loose connection, if it really isn’t your specialty area, then don’t comment. It won’t do your reputation any good to try to be something you are not and may potentially backfire.  Politely refuse and say why.  Even better, recommend an expert you know who is in a better position to respond.


2. The issue is negative and it isn’t yours

Let’s say there was an industry issue.  A competitor has been found to be doing the wrong thing and they are currently being profiled in the most negative light.   Being one of that company’s strongest competitors, you have been approached by a journalist to add commentary.  It sounds like it might be a good opportunity to gain the edge over your competitor, right? Wrong!   While it may seem like a positive move, the fallout will be that when audiences hear or read about this issue, your name will be associated with it.  Politely decline and advise that you aren’t in a position to comment on other organisation’s actions.


3. The timing is wrong

Its imminent.  You are on the verge of making an announcement – good (significant growth) or bad (significant loss).  Its too early to announce the good news and hopefully you have a media strategy in place which embraces a broader campaign.  Its too early to announce the bad news, you may have to lay people off and this is definitely not something you want employees and their families reading about in the media.     Either way, politely refuse but tell the journalist you will be in touch in the near future when you are in a position to offer a story.


4. You don’t have a media training spokesperson

A poor performance in the media – radio, television or print – can do considerable and sometimes irreparable damage to the reputation and goodwill of an individual or organisation.  In the case of a contentious issue, the worst action you can take is throw an untrained spokesperson into the spotlight and painfully watch them writhe under the scrutiny of an investigative journalist.  If there is an issue that needs a response but your spokesperson isn’t media ready, then issuing a carefully crafted media statement would be the best way forward.   You are still responding, but it will be contrived and controlled with the messages you want heard.

5. It’s a legal issue

You or your company are in a legal battle or an issue is currently being investigated.   A media ban is advice that usually emanates from a lawyer but that doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t communicate.  This is again one of those situations where you should refuse the interview, and say why, but provide a short statement or comment that doesn’t go into the specifics but addresses the reasons you are taking action and the outcome you hope for.


There are some occasions where silence or a “no comment” reply can do more reputational damage than good.  In almost every case I would advocate communication and some sort of response.  The key is in both the content and the way you respond. Journalists have a job to do and so do you.  So while at times your objectives and theirs may not be aligned, its important to maintain professionalism and courtesy on every occasion.

Five Steps to Mastering Your Next Media Interview

You have agreed to do a media interview so now you have to face the firing line, so to speak.  Here are some ideas that can help you sail through your next media interview.


Regardless of whether you are launching a new product or responding to a crisis, the objective of any interview should be to promote your brand/company in a positive light and to get the best possible outcome from the interview.  Here are five things you can do to master your next media interview.


1) Preparation is key.  Start by making a list of every possible question a journalist may ask including a ‘worst-case-scenario’ line of questioning and devise ideal responses to ensure you ready for any question, including the tricky ones.


As Henry Kissinger, a master of interviews, once remarked during a press conference whilst Secretary of State, “Does anyone have any questions for my answers?’


2) The journalist is asking the questions but you are the one managing the responses. There is no point in participating in any interview if your key messages aren’t communicated.    A solid understanding of your company’s key messages and thinking of different ways to say the same thing provides the foundation to get your message across (almost) regardless of the question asked.


3) Investigate the publication or media program beforehand – it will help you understand the type of questions that may get asked and even more importantly the audience reading, watching or listening so you can pitch your answers accordingly.


4) If the interview is conducted on television or radio, use your body language and tone of voice to create a positive impression. Viewers are likely to read into body language despite your response, which may be positive, so shifting in your seat nervously or buying time by reaching for that glass of water will tell the audience things that may work to contradict your response.


5) The interview itself is a great opportunity to establish your credibility, build rapport with the interviewing journalist that will hopefully develop into an ongoing relationship.


Last of all, try to relax and enjoy the interview –it is likely to be the one of many and each interview is a valuable learning process.


The Essential ‘C’s’ of Communicating in a Media Interview

Your performance in a media interview has the ability to shape public impressions and perceptions of you and your organisation.  You can make or break your reputation with a good or poor interview.  The seven C’s of communicating in a media interview will help make the whole interview process smoother and help lead to a more favourable result:

  1. Credibility
    First impressions are everything. In the first 30 seconds we meet someone we have already formed an impression.  Keep this in mind when preparing for your interview and make sure you dress, act and speak appropriately for the situation. 
  2. Context
    State the reasons why you are here talking today – the reasons that brought you to the interview as well as the message you want to convey.
  3. Content
    What you say must be relevant to the interview. Only share facts that are relevant and meaningful to the audience.
  4. Clarity
    Speak clearly, the interviewer must be able to understand what you are talking about. Make sure the words you use mean the same thing to the audience.
  5. Continuity
    Repeat key messages. What do you want to say and how many different ways can you say it?  Repetition achieves infiltration and understanding.
  6. Consistency
    Make sure your message is consistent with other communications that are being said by your organisation.
  7. Capability of audience
    The interviewer must be aware of the audience capabilities. The least effort required understanding the message, the more effective it will be.

With these key points in mind you will be rewarded with better, clearer communication and the ability to maximise your story potential.  Remember – preparation is king.  

Henry Kissinger was a master at interviews and was once overheard asking confidently at a news conference “Does anyone have any questions for my answers?”

“No Comment” – six alternatives and why, when, and how to use them

You may be one of the lucky ones who never find themselves in front of the media over a contentious issue or crisis.  Conflict is exactly what makes news ‘news’ and if you watch the news tonight you’ll notice the most common theme behind every story is conflict. Whether the story is about man versus the environment, politician versus politician, big corporate versus little guy, it’s almost certainly bound to focus on a disagreement or fight.


So if you find yourself dealing with a crisis or you have a contentious issue that needs addressing in the media, responding with the words “no comment” will only make matters worse. By responding with “no comment” you are effectively telling your audience you are to blame, wrong or hiding something.  “No comment” equals “guilty”.  Audiences will speculate and assume you have something to hide. What’s worse, is chances are, the media will run the story, with or without your help. If they can’t get a comment from you, they’ll get one from someone else and that ‘someone else’ could be the ‘other’ party, your competitor or previous employees.


So what do you do if you can’t actually address the issues at hand? The rule of thumb is to explain why you can’t respond and put things in perspective. Relevant key messages may also help you tell your story on your terms.


You may also want to think about the following six alternatives to the words “no comment”.


  •  “I think it would be clearer if I first explained….”,
  • “I don’t have all the facts to be able to answer the question accurately but I can  tell you that …” (continue with your key message),
  • “To answer, you must consider the following points…”
  • “Actually, that relates to a more important concern….”
  • “Your question points out a common misconception we hear too often.  The real issue here is …”
  • “For legal reasons I am unable to answer that question, however I can tell you this…”


Remember, in many instances, the reporter’s next question will be based on your previous answer. If you successfully bridge to your message, the reporter may stay on that topic.


Remember, never lie and any response (almost) is better than “no comment”.