A reporter friend texted me about his frustration with communications professionals who are either hamstrung by their bosses and unable to do their jobs, or who otherwise fail to conduct media relations in a timely manner. The situation doesn’t help anyone, as no one can do their job, and the public doesn’t get the correct, or sometimes, any information. “How do we get you to teach the communications professionals in this town how to communicate?” he said.
I have taught many people how to work with the media, and especially how to communicate in a crisis. I think it’s good to hear directly from the media how they want to receive information from their sources, as a refresher for all of us. Here’s the gist of what my reporter friend wants all people working in communications to know.
- It’s important to say something. Saying nothing means information comes from other sources, and the rumor mill is very active.
- It is critical to understand how quickly rumors spread and whip people into a frenzy. Social media can make any communicator’s job even harder, as the battle to correct misinformation mounts depending on how long the true story is delayed.
- You really can ask for something to be off the record. We understand that there are times you can’t tell us at the time, but you CAN say, “Hey, I can’t tell you much yet, but off-the-record, don’t send everyone home for dinner just yet.”
- Stop trying so hard to protect your people or control the narrative. In most cases, your subject matter expert is smart, capable, and willing to answer questions. Let them. You will get grilled less often if there is regular, proactive communication. If you never say anything, it looks like you’re trying to hide something.
I’ll add to this that it is OK, in the case of a crisis to say that you don’t have all the information, while sharing what you do have (stating the facts), and that you will get back to the reporter as soon as you have more to say. If you’re waiting for your client or boss’s approval before sharing information, you can at least let reporter’s know that you’re working on it, rather than leaving them hanging.