During a crisis, preparation for the media should be done exactly the same as you prepare for any other media interview. Everything is the same, except that everything is different.
Everything is the same in that you need to have identified your top three messages. You need to have good sound bites. And you need to answer questions in a tight, focused manner.
However, everything is different in that, unlike a normal non-crisis media interview, you have no margin for error. In a normal interview, if you occasionally go off message or utter a sound bite that isn’t 100% right, there is usually little damage. But in a media crisis, you can be perfectly on message for a solid hour and then have one 5 second aside that is off message and that is the quote that is blown up in headlines that will serve to identify you for the next decade in a damning manner.
In short, pretty good isn’t good enough during a crisis. Near perfect isn’t perfect; it is a disaster. Just ask the CEO of BBP, Tony Hayward. Time and time again during BP’s first 6 weeks of the Gulf spill Crisis Tony would look good, sound good and stay on message for 2o minutes, then in the last five seconds he would say things like “I’m shocked. How the help did this happen to us?’ “This is America, of course there will be illegitimate lawsuits filed against us,” “the spill was not our fault,” and of course “I want my life back.”
Before you laugh at poor Tony, realize that this could be you, if you don’t practice, rehearse and drill, drill, drill.
Staying on message during a media crisis takes tremendous discipline and the ability to ignore normal formats of acceptable conversation. Staying on message means you have to be ruthlessly narrow minded and single focused. And it is the only thing that will let you get through a major media crisis with your reputation, dignity and stock price intact.
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