A crisis scenario not only presents reputation and image management problems for your organization but media handling can either kill a potential negative story or further propel it. And while the Communications Manager and CEO may be left o handle speaking to the press, journalists know that these people are often prepared on soem level as to what questions they will be asked. Truth be told, not every client or employee is equipped to deal with the media on an intimate level. However it is clear some Executives need a hand held because they cannot handle on-the-fly questioning alone. But media training can help clients and company employees prepare for encounters from journalists and interviewers. Another case may be that you want to pitch a story to the media and it is one that will impact your growth, your reputation, and your bottom line. You prepare for it carefully, briefing top management and preparing highly memorable media messages that will gain the audience’s attention—and trust.
However you forget one tiny detail. Your fellow employees. As the practitioner, you may have dealt with the press before, and so you know how they ought to be handled. Media know that many executives and managers have received media training, so they occasionally circumvent the official chain of command in order to speak with a less trained (and more candid) junior staffer. A secretary or even an intern may firt this bill. With just a few careless words, those subordinates can undermine all of your media training and carefully plotted communications strategy. This then is why whenever media training is being done, it is important that all company employees are in the know.
Here are a few tips to go about it:
Assign an Escort for the Press.
Assign an escort whenever journalists visit your office. That will help prevent reporters from “accidentally getting lost” on the way to the restroom, wandering the hallways and striking up a conversation with the wrong person.
If the reporter is visiting your office to interview your Chief Executive Officer, for example, you can assign the CEO’s assistant as the escort. But if that assistant hasn’t received media training and isn’t familiar with your company’s main talking points, you might consider assigning an experienced media representative from your communications department instead. Not only will this keep the Press in line, but it is bound to prevent them from meeting people they were not to meet in the first place.
Notify Your Staff about the Visit in time.
A week before the reporter visits—and again on the day of the visit—send an email to staff alerting them to the impending visit and reminding them of your media policy. A whatsapp message can also be useful for those who may not get the email in time.
Your media policy might allow only authorized spokespersons to speak to the press, especially when dealing with a hostile reporter or a particularly challenging subject. In those cases, instruct unauthorized employees who are approached by reporters to say that they’re not the best person to answer their questions and offer to connect them with a member of the communications department.
Although that approach may be best in some circumstances, keep in mind that reporters may note in their stories that your employees seemed “nervous” and refused to speak with them. Plus, as a practical matter, it may be difficult to prevent journalists from speaking to someone they encounter in a hallway or common area, especially if the interaction is being filmed (your on-camera intrusion would be noteworthy and could become part of the story).
Have an Agreement with the Press
To help prevent the problem of “wandering reporters,” some organizations negotiate the terms of the interview prior to the reporter’s visit. You might consider restricting their access to personnel by asking them to agree to speak only with the previously agreed upon subject(s) of the interview. Thisn may be through requesting for an interview guide before the said interview.
You can also negotiate what reporters are allowed to film prior to visiting your company. For example, you might ask them not to shoot employees’ computer screens or papers on their desks.
Although many reporters are happy to comply with such terms, some may end up going against these rules. It is your responsibility to ensure that what happens is under your control.
Brief Staff on Key Messages
In some circumstances, it’s better to allow your staff to answer basic questions about their work and your organization. That’s especially true if the reporter doesn’t typically write hostile stories and the focus of the interview with your company is about an uncontroversial topic.
If you plan on allowing your employees to speak with a reporter who approaches them in a hallway or during a tour of the office, you should prepare basic media guidelines for your staff, and provide them with your key messages so they know what the “company line” is. In general however, certain topics should be left undiscussed or considered "no go areas."
It’s also a good idea to remind employees to “stay in their lanes.” It’s okay for engineers to discuss the technical details of your company’s new software, for example, but they should refuse questions that are “outside their lanes,” such as those about global marketing strategy. Qustions to do with finances are generally considered "off limit."
Ask Them to Tidy Up
Instruct your staff to remove any confidential or sensitive papers from their desktops and to avoid displaying sensitive documents on their computer screens. Ask them to remove overtly political messages from their work areas (e.g. posters and bumper stickers) that, in some cases, can endanger an organization. You might even ask them to do a little housekeeping to leave a neat appearance.
In order to add “color” to their stories, good reporters pay attention to interesting details within eyesight or earshot. As an example, I know of one executive who decorated his office rather lavishly, largely at taxpayer expense. When a scandal erupted at his organization, reporters were quick to note the expensive rug and antique chair in his office. So before a journalist visits your office, walk through the entire office space, try to see the workspace through the eyes of a skeptical journalist, and make any necessary adjustments.
While these tips may not always get you covered, they will help your employees know how to behave when they are talking to the Press.