A few days ago, an investigative reporter from St. Louis was dispatched to cover complaints of a dangerous decaying tree encroaching on a woman’s property. For most journalists, this is not a huge story. No one is busting a human trafficking ring or bringing down a corrupt politician – this is a classic tale of a nice lady who just wants a falling tree cleaned up before it hurt her property and her pets.
Upon arriving at the property manager’s office, the reporter and his photographer watch as the receptionist ducks and covers – under her desk – for 30 minutes!
Then the TV crew encounters another employee who may have answers about the troublesome tree. Instead that man, brushes them off, turns his back and then shuts a door in their face. It’s all caught on camera. Because the scenario was so bizarre, the video went viral and became a national news story. So how can you avoid this from happening to you?
Prepare Your Employees: Just like a business prepares for a fire or a downed network, it must also prepare if the media comes knocking. Many companies will media train their C-level executives so they can react to a reporter inquisition. They (should) know how to stick to the message, focus on the brand and appear friendly. However, this process needs to be emphasized to every employee – from the top all the way down to the intern making copies.
Don’t Ignore the Problem: Like a disaster, you never know when something will pique the interest of a reporter. If you refuse to answer their phone calls or emails, chances are they’ll show up at your business. And chances are they’ll start interrogating the first person they see – whether it’s the receptionist in the lobby, the head of IT in the parking lot or that intern picking up coffee.
Train and Repeat: It’s easy to prepare your staff for an unexpected media blitz. You can even create a packaged statement all employees must know. For example, “I apologize. I am not allowed to comment. Let me take down your information and I will make sure my supervisors know.” Teach your workers to repeat this if questioned again; which will most likely happen. Remind them they must be friendly but stern and heck, they can even say it with a smile.
Try to Avoid “No Comment”: Even if something cannot be fixed immediately, talk to the media. Get in front of the camera or get them on the phone. Give them a soundbite for the 5 o’clock news but keep it brief. Inform them of what’s happening, what you are doing to make it better and encourage them to follow up. Plus, this will boost morale within your own company when employees see their business make a position, take action and stand up to questions. Now, every situation can be and will be different. You can’t be prepared for everything. But your business’s best line of defense is to have a plan B for all your employees – and that does not include hiding under a desk.