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12 Crisis Communication Interview Tips

Our good friends at Beuerman Miller Fitzgerald put out a great newsletter this week.  As they say:

One thing we hear a lot from clients with potentially hostile or dramatic media challenges is that "media interviews are a losing proposition." "They are a 'no win' because reporters are out to get us."  "No matter what I say they'll make me look bad."  For these reasons and many more, some clients make a potentially bad situation even worse by making interviews far more difficult and complex than they should be.
 
12 quick tips to help clear the clutter and focus on those things that really matter in an interview:   

  1. Interview the interviewer.  How much do they know?  Who else are they talking to? What, specifically are they looking for?  Interviews are a two-way street.  Communication should flow both ways.
  2. Put yourself in the reporter's shoes?  If you were them, what would you ask?
  3. Place time limits on your interview right up front.
  4. Place topical limits on the interview as needed: "I can talk about several of these issues but I'm not at liberty to discuss X at this time."
  5. Be conversational.  Treat the interview as a guarded, cautious conversation, not an inquisition.
  6. Keep the pre- and post-interview chit chat at a minimum.  The reporter is always listening and the camera is always on.
  7. Rehearse your key comments with a colleague as much as possible in advance.
  8. Know your strengths but also know your vulnerabilities and how you'll deal with them.
  9. Be brief.  Make your point and STOP!  Interviews are like a tennis match. Their turn...your turn. Their turn...your turn.
  10. Practice "framing" your most important points so the reporter has no choice but to recognize that they're key.  "Here's what's most important...."  "What I really want you to understand is...."  "If I could stress one key point it would be...."
  11. Don't speculate and don't ever say or confirm anything you're not fully certain of.  There's nothing wrong with: "I don't have that information" or "I'm not certain of that and can't comment on it."
  12. After the interview ends, make a quick, graceful exit.  Do not hang around.

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How to have a hugely successful PR campaign

Seth Godin blogged about it today.  One option is to struggle to be heard whenever you're in the room... Another is to be the sort of person who is missed when you're not.

The first involves making noise. The second involves making a difference.

And so it is with succssful public relations. We take the unusual step of saying to our clients (either during a pitch or after it is successful won) that frankly we don't care how many press releases we are asked to distribute.  All too many agencies seem to want to calculate their retainer or projects based on the number of press releases.  This doesn't make sense to us.  So long as each and every press release is newsworthy and relevant we don't mind working on one a day.  

Off course I've yet to meet a client that had that many newsworth releases... in fact back in 1999 I was speaking to a journalist who was compaining to me that Microsoft sent them a press release every two days.  They actually didn't care that the releases were every two days (they were allready clearing 100+ emails from their email of usless pitches), but they did care that 99% were irrelivent to the title they wrote on.  Of course it wasn't Micorsoft's fault - just the agency at the time that wanted to spam all journalists.

Successful PR campaigns and to add to that - campaigns with longevity - require a spokesperson that makes a difference - or to put it another way, one that will be missed if they are not commenting.

How is your spokesperson doing?

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Who are the key decision makers and are the spokes people media trained?

Every company has a organizational chart - a ladder of power, but how this structure functions during a crisis must be clarified with all the stakeholders in the company; particularly the communications department. A crisis can hit at any time, and the company needs to determine secondary command structures in case key decision-makers are unavailable at the time.

Not only is it important for those to know who need to spring to action (and how those people are contacted) - it is equally important that everyone else in the organization knows they can not speak on behalf of the company or to the press. Something that is best handled in a company employee handbook.

Organizations also need to decide which situations warrant which spokes person, and plan accordingly.

Most importantly, the spokes people need to be media trained in advance. Effective spokes people should receive professional media training and should be well versed on how to deal with the press. An organization's spokes person need not necessarily be the most senior staffers. For example, in some cases, the CEO is not the most efficient spokes person due to experience, knowledge or geographical location.

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7 Tips for Tony Hayward to Survive the BP Oil Spill Congressional Hearing

If Tony Hayward, the CEO of BP, and ultimate person responsible for the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf wants to survive the present Congressional panel (heckler disruptions aside), he needs to not only get his message straight, but also get the delivery correct. Just like in any crisis communications situation he needs to work on:

1. Credibility – so that the panel has confidence in the message and believes in him.

2. Appropriate context – for the panel and ultimately the population of the US.

3. Right content – which is appropriate for the population of the US (and no doubt the viewers of the countless other international media following this event).

4. Clarity – so that the message is unequivocal.

5. Continuity – with previous and proposed BP marketing activity.

6. Simplicity – so that the message cannot be misunderstood or misinterpret.

7. Impact – so the media cover the story from BP's angle.

We also know from previous news reports that Mr Hayward is not a night owl (OK, I get he needs to be up early to do business back in Blighty). If I was him, I'd be spending a lot of long evenings anticipating what the panel (and journalist) are likely to ask and prepare my response and messaging in reply. I'd be spending my time exactly how a crisis communications spokes person should be preparing:

Anticipate – Prepare – Rehearse
Anticipate – Prepare – Rehearse
Anticipate – Prepare – Rehearse

While Tony may be one of the most hated people in America (has anyone run him head-to-head with Joran Van der Sloot?) if BP can get their crisis communications right, they could emerge a stronger and more profitable company.

What do you think?

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