1. Identify what matters
Put together a list of problems your organization could potentially face. Be imaginative and comprehensive. What scares you? Prioritize what you come up with, so you can prepare for the most urgent problems first.
2. Identify your audiences
If the point before is “what matters,” this is “who matters.” Ask yourself: if we had to talk about this, who would we be speaking to? Your audience may be internal or external. Employees, vendors, clients and customers, the public; these are all people who may need to know.
3. List the questions
Once you’ve identified the issues and audiences, begin drawing up a list of questions reporters are likely to ask. Try and think like a reporter and not someone affiliated with any particular company. Reporters aren’t afraid to ask uncomfortable questions. A rule we like to follow goes like this: when a client says, “Oh, they’ll never ask that question,” that’s the first question we plan for. Put it down on the list.
4. Write out your answers
Now that you’ve got the questions, what are the answers? Write them down. And please avoid the trite, “We don’t comment on matters involving litigation.” In the communications world, that’s a crutch – one that companies and their spokespeople use when they want to avoid dealing with issues. Worse yet, people reading or hearing it translate it to mean either “They’re hiding” or “They’re scared.”
5. Designate a single spokesperson
It’s crucial that you designate one person to respond to the press, so the company’s message remains consistent and clear.
6. Identify clear lines of authority
Once you do this, ensure that everyone knows this chain of command to keep your crisis under control.
7. Consider a media training
If the person doing the speaking will benefit from it, take time to do some media training. Sit down and go through mock questions and answers just as if it were a real interview. Record them, play them back and be merciless in your constructive criticism.*
*A note on that last point. There was a time, not so long ago, when a client of ours in the retail sector decided it needed a spokesperson to respond to some expected media inquiries. Even though I’m the person at our company who ordinarily conducts the trainings, I decided to have others put me through the drill. What happened when we played back the mock interviews? Everyone in the room, even me, was taken aback at how defensive I became the moment the interviewer started asking questions. It was exactly the opposite of what the client wanted or needed in that situation. Training – practice – allowed us to see that, change the approach and be ready to handle the multiple media interviews that came our way.