Tips for Crisis Communications: How to Work With the Media While in Crisis

By Deanna LeBlanc & David Tanklefsky

Two former journalists at Castle share insights from both sides of the journalism/PR divide. Would you rather watch this content? Click here to view the video!

David interviews Deanna in front of a camera

If you’ve encountered a crisis in your personal or professional life, you know that clear thinking is crucial. But it’s often in short supply. So why is it that we’re unable to think straight when we’re in a bind? There’s a scientific reason: under significant stress, your prefrontal cortex can sometimes shut down, inducing panic, a lack of executive function, brain control, and paralysis. That’s about as good an advertisement for crisis communications as we can think of.

5 Crisis Communication Tips

Are you a lab that could one day see a chemical issue? A school that could have a video go viral in the worst way? A healthcare or financial organization that could be targeted by ransomware? Castle’s crisis communications experts can help you to prepare for possible crisis scenarios specific to your organization. If the worst happens, here are five tips to help you confidently and effectively deal with the media and your key stakeholders.

Crisis Communication Tip #1: Be honest.

It seems basic, but honesty is the best policy. This doesn’t mean sharing every detail of a crisis with the media (as former media members, we would very much not suggest doing that). But it means being truthful and accurate with the information you provide. Nothing compounds a crisis quicker than being caught misleading or misrepresenting an issue.

Being cautious about what you share publicly differs from being untruthful or knowingly misleading. The same principle rings true when communicating with your crisis communications team, both internal and external. Be honest from the beginning about the scope of the issue, potential ramifications, and any vital context. Providing a complete picture allows your team to build the most effective strategy to help you navigate the crisis.

Crisis Communication Tip #2: Remember: It’s the media’s job.

While the goals of PR professionals and journalists are sometimes at odds, it’s helpful to remember that the media has a vital role in our society—and a difficult job to do. Like many fields, theirs is fiercely competitive with unique pressures and stressors. So, if you are dealing with a crisis, remember that it’s the media’s job to ask difficult questions and dig for information that may make you uncomfortable.

Making things personal or being unnecessarily antagonistic doesn’t benefit you or your company. For example, suppose you’re dealing with a reporter acting in good faith. Your job may be to provide additional information or present a side of the story that the reporter hadn’t thought about or may fully understand. Showing a modicum of respect vs. taking the bull-in-a-China-shop approach often results in a better outcome.

Crisis Communication Tip #3: Fight your first impulse.

If your company is the subject of a bad news story, your first instinct may be to pick up the phone or fire off an email with data refuting every critical point the reporter made in their piece. Our advice: Don’t do that. At least not yet.

We get it. Nobody likes to be talked about publicly. And, understandably, you may be upset about a story you believe to be unfair or misinformed. So don’t pick up the phone or send an email in the heat of the moment. If you act on emotion and passion in the throes of a crisis, it can often worsen the situation.

Crisis Communication Tip #4: Evaluate the media landscape.

When you’re in a crisis, it can feel like everyone is talking about you. It’s not a comfortable place to be, especially if you hear information that reflects poorly on you or your organization. But it’s not always as bad as it looks. Avert a flurry of unwanted coverage by reacting too quickly based on perception rather than reality.

Look closely at the outlets reaching out to you, the specificity of their questions, and the kinds of stories they have written about in the past. Your company may be a small part of a bigger story or one of several the reporter contacts. In this case, less is more. Responding too quickly can lead to more questions or make your company a more significant part of the story than it otherwise would be.

Crisis Communication Tip #5: Have a plan and practice it.

Let’s face it. While no organization ever wants to find itself responding to a crisis, the truth is that it will happen. Crises take on many forms: employment issues, accidents, tragedies, indecencies, or problems by affiliation – issues carried about by an individual or group tangentially connected to you that negatively impact your organization’s reputation.

Who’s monitoring social media? Who’s looping in the board? How much do you need to say? Build a plan with your crisis consultant before a situation surfaces—and practice it! A regular crisis communication training exercise can provide the experience and expertise you may need to navigate a crisis effectively.

Need help with business crisis management and communication planning? Castle’s crisis experts can help.

When the stakes are high, it’s incredibly valuable to have a clear-thinking third party who can objectively evaluate the situation, advise, support, and implement effective methods of communication. At a minimum, crisis communications experts provide a road map for mitigating a problematic situation. At a maximum, this, which isn’t always an exaggeration, can help a company survive.

Written By: Deanna LeBlanc & David Tanklefsky


Outdoors of the Castle Group office