By Gerard Braud
In lesson 11 we discussed the fact that when there is an industrial accident and a spokesperson does not appear in a timely manner, reporters often go looking for facts and quotes from other people, such as the ones with no teeth who live in trailers.
Something else happens, which also ties into lesson 5 on bias.
When a reporter arrives on the scene of a disaster or crisis they immediately began sizing up the situation and deciding whether they have confidence in you or no confidence. I often like it to the European parliaments that will cast a vote of confidence or no confidence in the Prime Minister.
If disaster strikes and no one is around to tell the reporter what is going on, the reporter will cast a vote of “no confidence” in you.
The result is ugly. They question whether you have your act together. They question whether the situation is potentially more dangerous that it actually is. I remember thinking as a reporter, standing outside of a burning chemical plant, “These people don’t have their act together. This is going to get uglier before it gets better. We’re all going to die.”
As a result my cynic filter, as discussed in lesson 12, would be set off and bias would begin to creep into my report. In a live report you might here the cynicism in the tone of my voice or hear a tone that sounds sarcastic. Additionally, the words I put in my script would become slightly more inflammatory.
If I was forced to go for an extended period of time without official information from the company involved, then anger would begin to creep in. I had editors and managers yelling at me wanting me to deliver the facts and no one from the company was actually helping me. Remember in lesson 3 we discussed the fact that it is about me. And when you don’t help men that is also when I would head out to the local neighborhood to begin asking neighbors what happened, whether they were afraid and what their opinion was of the company.
This is when I would usually hear comments such as, “They have explosions over there all the time,” “There’s no telling what’s in the air,” “I’m afraid to live here,” “My eyes are watering and my throat is scratchy,” and my all time favorite quote, “It blowed up real good.” (Yes, I actually had someone tell me that on camera one day.)
Sometimes the no confidence factor went even higher when a security guard would show up and tell us to turn off our TV camera, even when we are standing legally on public property. I’d always make sure we showed the security guard on the evening news because his actions or words clearly said this company had something to hide.
The ugliness of no confidence continues because when the official spokesperson finally comes forward, the reporter’s question will be far more negative, sarcastic and downright lethal.
As a corporate coach and trainer I understand that perhaps no one came out to speak to me when I was a reporter because everyone in the facility was busy fighting the fire. But let’s be honest. I don’t care. One person needs to be designated as spokesperson. It is part of your corporate responsibility to have a well trained and well qualified spokesperson, just as it is your corporate responsibility to have a well trained and well qualified team of emergency responders to fight the fire.
On the other hand, if I arrived on the scene of a burning factory and was met promptly by a courteous spokesperson with only the most basic facts, my confidence in the company went up astronomically. I immediately thought, “wow, these people have their act together.” That would make me cut them some slack and grant them some forgiveness. The questions to the spokesperson were much kinder and gentler. The tone of my voice in the live report was more fair. Sarcasm was removed from my delivery. Additionally, because I had facts and quotes from an official source, I had less need to knock on doors in the neighboring community to ask ill informed eye witnesses what they saw, heard and feared.
So in summary, be ready to have your spokesperson on the scene quickly with a well worded statement as part of your crisis communications plan, as we discussed in lesson 11.
In our next lesson we’ll look at how to deal with reporters who want you to speculate.