More and more TV viewers today are turning into tabloid shows such as “Hard Copy” and “Inside Edition.” These so-called “trash TV” shows may be tempting news programs to disregard ethics to compete for ratings and profits.
Many times organizations find themselves at the center of a not-so-friendly news report which may not only tarnish a company’s image, but may also negatively impact sales, employee morale and other critical issues.
Recent media coverage of events such as the Waco tragedy, the Lucasville Prison riot and NBC-TV’s staged GM truck explosion are examples of reporters crossing the line into sensational reporting, according to Henry Ruminski, PH.D., communication professor at Wright State University.
An organization may be thrust into the limelight at any time warns Ruminski. “You never know when something is going to happen, co you must be prepared to deal with news people that might be looking for a sensational story,” said Ruminski.
“Competition and corporate greed sometimes cause journalists to cheapen the news product,” said William Hanks, PH.D., also a communication professor at Wright State University.
To prepare for potential negative publicity, organizations should anticipate all possible crises – industrial accidents, environmental concerns, employee rights issues, and other sensitive matters – and develop a comprehensive plan to handle each situation.
Arming your organization with a well-planned crisis communications strategy may prevent or at least soften the potential for damaging media coverage. In addition, the better the plan, the better your chances for maintaining or regaining public confidence.
“I can’t over emphasize the importance of having a crisis communications plan on line and ready to go,” said Ruminski.
Whether creating your own plan or hiring a company to handle crisis communications, knowing how to communicate with the media can make a significant difference in portraying a positive image.
When preparing your organization’s crisis communications plan, Hanks and Ruminski offer several suggestions:
- If a mistake is made, quickly correct it and publicize the fact that it has been corrected.
- Always be honest and ethical in what you say and do. Short-term gains generally tend to be long-term losses.
- Avoid off-the-cuff remarks. It is better to say “I don’t know” than to say something that can be interpreted in a negative manner.
- Designate a well-trained media spokesperson. Prepare him or her to answer “firing line” questions. Have a statement ready when the press calls.
- Develop strong relationships with all key media. It is critical that reporters know whom to contact during a crisis.
- Providing the media with company bios and fact sheets is critical to your media relations. This may prevent those who are not a company spokesperson from being sought after for information.
- Keep employees well informed. Make clear to all associates that in a time of crisis, everyone needs to be careful of what is said and who it is communicated to.
Finally, Ruminski reminds communications executives of perhaps the most critical issue- “If the first time you meet the media is during a crisis, than you’re not doing your job in public relations.”