For a PR professional, every day is spent in the line of fire. When any event in the company goes wrong, the PR department is firefighting on all ends. It could be a simple issue like a disgruntled customer’s complaint to a reporter — or — a more complex one like any kind of lag in your company’s service that has caused a major impact.
Of course, issues can be much more severe too. The important take-away from this discussion is — these things happen. And with a lot more frequency than a PR team would like them to.
One aspect of these ‘incidents’ are reporter queries that will come at this time demanding information and facts that explain the problem.
It is a tricky situation to be in. Questions like “How much responsibility do you take for this incident?”, “Did you know about the incident?”, “How the management feels about the incident?”, “What kind of amends will you make for your mistake?” are common.
One skill that a PR pro must have is knowing how to keep a cool head. A simple mistake can easily become a PR blunder if not handled in the right way. Do not be offended by a media query. It is not personal. Take a few minutes before you start preparing responses.
Appropriate responses are hard to come up with but the way you find answers to your tricky media queries can be simple. Check out some pointers.
Stick to the topic: A media query is no time to pitch for coverage. If something has gone wrong, address the query in such a way that the journalist receives the answer he or she came looking for. Simple answers like “We are aware of the situation and are looking into the matter” can be a start but also offer specific information that a journalist can use to file his/her report.
Buy some time: If the query comes at a time when the company has not decided on some action items, issue a statement that tells the journalist you are aware of the situation and will get back to him/her shortly. Meanwhile prepare your answers and complete you research internally.
Keep your tone uniform: Saying something like ” As a company, we have defined policies and procedures to address such incidents. (mention any such policy/procedure) We assure you we will take all possible measures to address the problem,” can take the wind out of a journalist. As you talk about policies and procedures, you build trust in the work ethic of the company. That is important in the long-term.
Take responsibility where required: Sometimes, the situation is bad. Sometimes, companies need to take responsibility for what has occurred especially if it’s happened because of a company error. Issue an apology in this case. Something like: “We have taken strict notice of the incident and assure you that we will take all required actions to mitigate and address the problem. We genuinely regret any inconvenience caused to our customers,” can be helpful. Of course, you can add details in here to further refine the response. But be straightforward and honest about it.
Do not share personal opinions: If anyone has asked for a personal opinion of an executive or product manager, make sure the company stance is uniform in your communication with the reporters. Say something like, ” It is not the concern of any one individual but as a company we are looking into…. We will be taking the following actions and they include….”
Keep it short: A media query is not an opportunity to write an essay on your company. It is a serious task. Do not write long elaborate sentences trying to avert a question. Keep it simple and be honest.
Use positive language: “No, that is wrong” — well imagine a response that starts that way. Who will want to believe what you are telling them. Always use positive language and keep the tone of your response impersonal and official. If a journalist asks ” Are you ashamed by the mess you have created?, do not use words like “embarrassed, ashamed, unhappy” when wording your responses. Think positive and reflect that in your media communication.
Do not mention competitors or comparisons: If a question is repeatedly comparing you to a competitor, respond with information only about your own company. Speculations or the blame game is a no-no in the profession of PR. Your company’s integrity stands tall when you keep your communication clean of competition.
Do not make false promises: If a media query asks you for a guarantee like — “are you going to make sure it doesn’t happen again?”, always respond honestly. Say something like, “Companies and service providers cannot guarantee against unforeseen accidents, however we will take all possible safeguards/ measures to mitigate the accidents.”
With these pointers, your communication with media can be smooth and help you to develop long-lasting relationships with reporters. Always make sure you follow-up with reporters and acquire their feedback on what you shared. It will help you for your next response experience.
On that note, have a great weekend. Happy Communicating!
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