A crisis situation can be tricky to navigate for even the most experienced interviewee. Reporters are looking for the most information about what happened and may even try to trip you up or hint at what they think might have happened in an effort to be the first to break the news, so it’s important to know what to expect and how you can prepare for it.
I used to be a journalist so I’m speaking from experience when I say, my go to technique was hinting at what could have possibly led up to the crisis or asking and re-asking questions in hopes of getting more information out of an already flustered interviewee. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t, and now as a PR professional I’m here to tell you about how to make sure it doesn’t work.
So, what can you expect? First off when one hits your organization, or even an organization you’re affiliated with, prepare for media to be all over the situation. Reporters will be calling wanting interviews, first to know what happened and later what you’re going to do about it.
Questions to expect from a reporter during a crisis
The most common questions you’ll be asked are “what happened?” and “how did it happen?” It’s important to be honest with this question, and if you don’t know how it happened it’s okay to say, “I don’t know, we’re working on that and we will let you know as soon as we have the answers.” I phrase that answer that way on purpose because just saying I don’t know leads to more questions about, how can you not know. By saying we’re working on it and we will let you know as soon as we find out, you’re giving the reporter peace of mind and you’re giving yourself control. Make sure to let the media know something though, as soon as you find out because they will be fishing for answers.
Next prepare for, “Is anyone hurt and if so how many?” Normally, crisis situations involve death, injury, or damages and the media will want answers to those questions.
Typically to follow this question is one along the lines of “what are you doing now, what is the next step?” This is the how are you going to remedy this tragedy question and it’s an important one, because it speaks directly to the character of your company. For example, imagine you’ve just had a fire in your company building and one of the employees is killed and several others are injured.
When the reporter asks this question and if you say, we’re not doing anything, that makes your business look bad. A better approach would be to say something like, “We’re working to figure out what happened, our hearts go out to the families impacted and we are offering assistance to those families during this tragedy.” A statement of that nature will appear more empathetic and make your company look better in spite of whatever crisis you’re involved in.
Lastly, prepare for reporters to do some digging and if you have any skeletons in your closet, for example, OSHA records that show violations that could have prevented the warehouse fire we’re using as an example, the media will probably find it and report it. It’s important to consult with your PR team to get ahead of these reports before you even do your first interview, that way you’re not caught off guard if a reporter throws in a question from left field.
The most important point to remember is work closely with your PR team the instant a crisis hits. Prepare for a media interview, maybe even several, and get in front of the situation to control the message right from the get-go.