How to handle a crisis

At First Take we know the media loves trouble. The more trouble there is, the better the story. The better the story, the bigger the audience. So you can imagine how much journalists long for a crisis. If you look at any big award given for journalism you can almost guarantee it will be given for coverage of one. A politician on the brink of resignation, a big company about to collapse, a war brewing or a plane crash can easily attract huge numbers of press, all competing against each other for the exclusive that will give their paper or channel the edge on the competition.

When thinking about how to handle a crisis an experienced spokesperson knows there’s no room for any error. You have to very quickly show that you are in control and are handling the crisis responsibly in order to minimize the damage. Any comments that fuel the crisis, even those made off-the-record or those that are covertly overheard can hugely damage your company’s reputation. Handling a crisis is the hardest challenge that a spokesperson will ever face. That’s why we offer intense bespoke crisis media training to the spokespeople of leading organisations.

One of the biggest corporate crises of recent times came in 2010 when a BP Oil Rig, the Deepwater Horizon, exploded and sank killing 11 people. It triggered the biggest oil spill in history as almost 5 million barrels of oil pumped into the Gulf of Mexico.   With the world’s media watching Tony Hayward, the then CEO of BP, was interviewed about the crisis. In the first 20 minutes of the interview he stuck to his message. However the last 5 minutes of the interview were a textbook example of how not to handle a crisis. Tony uttered these words, ““I’m shocked. How the hell did this happen to us?”, “the spill was not our fault”, and “I want my life back”. It was clear that the pressure had got to him and he was struggling to cope. In a crisis that is exactly the opposite message you want from the very person who is supposed to be in charge of sorting the mess out. The press jumped on the quotes, amongst other things immediately asking the bereaved families of the oil workers for a response given that their dead relatives didn’t have a life to ‘get back’. Tony Hayward’s gaffe laded interview soon became the story and he was forced to resign from one of the most prestigious jobs in business.

Tony Hayward went wrong because he deviated from his original message and allowed his personal emotions to come into play.

But his mistakes are easily repeatable. Crisis media training really helps you get into the mindset of the journalist, show you how to get the upper hand and lead the news agenda in the event of a crisis.

But here are some of the top points that you need to remember when it comes to crisis media management:

  • Always remember to stay on the message. It will require a tremendous amount of discipline to be able to successfully deliver your message as a single erroneous comment can wipe millions off a large company’s share price.
  • Reporters are not obligated to you and your organization. Their job is to get the story for ratings and circulation to generate profits for their company. Don’t take it personally when they put you under pressure.
  • Avoid “not talking” about the crisis because it will only make matters worse.
  • Don’t panic and never get defensive. Reporters feed on emotion so stay calm at all times when dealing with the media.
  • Act enthusiastically about getting your message out.
Do you have a media interview coming up? Downloading our free Media Interview Preparation Template will really help you focus your thoughts and get you prepared for the interview. Filling it in should take about 10 minutes. If you complete it and return it to us, we will be happy to get back to you ASAP with bespoke tips to help you make the very best impression possible. This is a totally free service.


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