Being edgy, innovative, hip—all good things in today’s hipper-than-thou economy. Perhaps, that is, until you’re faced with a media crisis.
When it hits the fan, all the hipness and the charm in the world won’t help you, because what people really want to know is, are you reliable?
Think of it this way—if your spouse (wrongfully) suspected you were having an affair, would it help to remind them of how attractive and desirable you are? No, you want them to remember how reliable, trustworthy, and dare I say, boring, you are. You’re not Arnold Schwarzenegger, you’re Bob Newhart!
When a reporter calls asking your organization to comment on something you know is going to be negative, your goal is not just to convince them that the facts are on your side—it’s to show them that the issue at question is so utterly uninteresting that no reader or viewer in their right mind will tune in.
Here are a few general guidelines for navigating a crisis with reputation intact:
- Just the facts. Let’s face it, people like drama, not facts. That’s why significantly less people download police reports than tune into live car chases. To avoid escalating the drama, provide the facts, and steer clear of embellishment.
- Be the Math teacher. Have you ever noticed how few math teachers are embroiled in these juicy media controversies? Of course not, they’re far too embroiled in logic to be caught up in such foolishness (don’t even get me started on Imaginary Numbers). And if they were, who would believe it? I mean, c’mon!
- Demonstrate strict adherence to standard policy and process. Say that out loud and tell me that’s not boring! It’s so dull that I had trouble retaining consciousness long enough to finish the sentence. Nevertheless, that’s what people want to hear from you—that you run a tight ship, like a bank.
- Don’t give them the “sound-bite”. Of course this is not a hard and fast rule—sometimes you will need to offer soundbites. But the general problem is this: sound bites are like a short rope—it’s not enough to pull your horse out of the quicksand, but it’s enough for the posse to hang you with. In other words, it’s a lot easier for a soundbite to come across negative than positive, so beware. If in doubt, err on the side of a detailed, informative response.
So when your company gets called to the carpet by the media, think of yourself as England (yes, the country). Which England? Definitely the Queen Victoria, “trains run on time” England, and not the Austin Powers-style Swinging London. In the end, whether you decide to take an interview or simply provide a statement, you want the reporter to walk away thinking, “that made a lot sense, and was really boring.”
P.S. If you do have to take an interview, recite this mantra 10 times beforehand: “I am Mel Tormé, not Jim Morrison. I am Pat Boone, not Elvis…”