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Surviving the Media Spotlight

Respond as it happens

If there’s any lesson the Paris Terror Attacks of Friday the 13th or those on the Charlie Hebdo offices back in January teach us it is that a crisis communications plan that simply factors in a reactive response after the event is not fit for purpose. Now you need the ability to craft a response as an event happens, as your involvement in it plays out live to a world watching on social media and as live professionally acquired pictures become available.


No longer the golden hour…

We’ve all heard about plans featuring the supposed “golden hour” you have to gather basic information and plan your first response. The first tweet sent from the Shoreham Air Disaster this August reached the outside world at 1.20pm, in the very same minute that the vintage jet crashed as it came out of a loop-the-loop maneuvre. The professional media reckon on hearing news of a blue light crisis in any urban area within approximately five minutes, being on site in the next five and having pictures available to air in the five after that, on average.


A Holding Statement Template

If you don’t have a form ready to fill out in a breaking emergency, which acts as your first media release to the world, I guarantee your Boards, Comms Teams and PR agencies will squander vital time as they reinvent the wheel and try to determine what should and should not be said. That being said, it’s no good doing the prep and putting a template together if nobody senior knows it exists or where to instantly access it on the day.


Your Twitter feed is a news resource

Official statements are now released on Twitter with the advantage that you have to reveal so little; only the absolutely vital actions being recommended or public information that should be given. Thereafter, as facts become known, release a constant drip feed of information to be seen to be on top of events and competently handling them by the media and wider stakeholders.


Monitor Media Posts by Reporters

If you want to know what direction coverage is heading in, monitor the media and, when you know who the key correspondents are covering events on the ground, follow them on Twitter to see both what they’re saying and asking.


Use the news service apps and online trawls to give your view

There’s a free news app from Sky on iPhones and Blackberries which offers a “Your Report” option for news services to harvest your comments and pictures. The BBC features online “trawls” as major stories break asking if you are present and willing to share your views and videos and whether its reporters can contact you. It’s a way to get your corporate view right to the heart of the story.


Keep up to date with social media services to update you in turn

Facebook used “Safety Check” within minutes in Paris to reach those in the area on GPS and encourage them to contact loved ones. Twitter has “Moments” to create an archive of breaking news and pictures. Periscope turns mobile phones into live streaming tv cameras to show events as they unfold.


Traditional media will be conservative in reporting social media

After the Charlie Hebdo attacks, when news services stood accused of identifying locations of hostages by repeating Twitter and Facebook posts, expect limited coverage of such information now. Also expect mainstream media to show less graphic images than online posts.


Boundaries of taste really are continually debated in UK newsrooms to determine what should and should not be shown. When you see professional news crews and photographers covering an emergency they will only shoot footage fit for broadcast or printing, even if they look like carrion crows at the scene. It’s the public with mobiles who’re the problem. 


Correct misinformation

As a natural, but sometimes unfortunate, human reaction we all share snippets of what we believe to be new information in an emergency to show we have the inside track on events. Misinformation, rumour and speculation take hold in this way and can later prove impossible to correct. You must move quickly to correct such inaccuracies or, potentially, lose the chance forever.


Create Google alerts

You can use free Google news alerts to tell you what’s going on in your working world. You should register for a Google news alert in the name of your company, the name of your CEO, and the main building/s because speed matters both in news and Business Continuity; getting on top of an incident as soon as it happens.


Check out the tools in your Marketing Department

Some of you might have the software Vocus or Precise in your organisations, very often in the marketing departments but of huge usefulness in Business Continuity in a crisis. They’re both tools to show who’s talking about you online and what they’re saying (and Precise adds a person doing media monitoring and creating an archive of all your news coverage.)


Prepare to meet us in 5

Professional news services can’t compete with Twitter for speed but we’re not far behind. It’s entirely realistic to say that in the UK media we expect to learn of any major blue light incident within 5 minutes, to be present in any urban area within the next 5 and to have professionally acquired pictures available to air in the following 5.


Your relationship with the Blue Lights

They have no interest in protecting your share price. They will not invite you automatically to have a seat at the table at any press conference they give any more than you will have any presence in any Casualty Bureau they set up to identify the dead, even they’re all from your organisation. It will be up to you to seek information from them about what they intend to say. The most popular member of the blue light services for the media, and for any of you wanting to have the most up to date information in a breaking emergency is the lead fire fighter with the white helmet who is allowed to tell you what’s happened and what his crew is doing about it.


Never obstruct newsgathering

Because we’ll use that shot of the hand over the lens (whether it’s the CEO or a security guard who’s responsible) and both the media and the public are likely to conclude that you’re caught up in events that are beyond your control or capacity to deal with. Identify a “briefing area” for media in the event of an emergency and direct news crews arriving on site towards it. Deliver regular briefings to them there even if it’s just to direct them to your Twitter feed, Facebook and website for the most up to date information.


Keep it coming

To be seen to be confidently and competently handling the event, keep a flow of basic information over the day and following days of a crisis. Richard Branson reaped the benefits following the Virgin Galactic test flight crash of commenting in real time on Twitter as he made his way to the site and as new information became available.


After the facts come the faces

We need to identify the dead and who they were in life for the wider world to engage with what really happened, but the faces we like best are those of the ordinary men and women who are the heroes and heroines of the hour. These also show your company at its best in the worst of times.


And when people die or are injured or frightened – the 3 Ps

The Pity Praise and Promises interview is a formula my compan y, Press Alert, created and which is at the heart of HM Government response:-


Pity – Express sympathy for those who were injured first, a human, warm response not an admission of liability.


Praise – Detail the quick reaction on site of your own emergency team, if true, swiftly followed by that of the emergency services, reassuring those watching that everything that could be done has been done.


Promises – Confirm that an investigation has already started. Your company wasn’t being complacent and waiting to be forced into an inquiry.


Follow the blue lights

You should aim to release a holding statement within 15 minutes of a breaking emergency as the blue lights do. Theirs is a pattern to aim for; in addition to your Twitter feed, a more detailed briefing or statement around an hour in and one confirming almost all basic facts the same day, usually 3 to 5 hours after the event depending on the complexity. We expect to see updates on your websites, which should also carry all media releases at the same time as their dispatch.


The media and financial headline crises

The media are always on the side of David versus Goliath. When it comes to financial institutions, the media’s attitudes to those who commit fraud on even the largest scale is almost indulgent (as it can be towards daring bank or safety deposit raids as long as there’s no loss of life.) But just let the public lose a penny, or cash machines fail to pay out or stop wages at the end of a week and see all that change in terms of news headlines. The man or woman at the top has to demonstrate accountability if the crisis is serious and high profile. The earlier your CEO speaks the less they will be expected to know.


BUT… make sure they’ve been media trained for a crisis

Television and radio skills don’t always go with rank. You need to know which members of your management team appear credible on screen and on air and to have found that out in the safety and privacy of the training room not live on News at Ten!


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