Last night, we were watching an interview given by George W. Bush to Matt Lauer of the Today show, surrounding the launch of his new book, “Decision Points”. Matt asked President Bush to reflect on the infamous photo of him at the end of the ground war in Iraq after 20 days, on the aircraft carrier underneath a sign that read “Mission Accomplished”. In retrospect, President Bush indicated that this was a huge mistake and that instead of congratulating the armed forces on completing the mission, he should have added “but we have a lot work left to do”. Often in the media, memories of your accomplishments or failures can be boiled down to one soundbite and image in the public.
If you or your company is faced with a crisis, here are some Do’s and Don’ts when dealing with the media:
1) Consult your attorney at the earliest possible opportunity.
2) Be as candid and as earnest as you can.
3) Prepare talking points in advance.
4) Don’t speculate or admit guilt until you have all the facts and have received legal guidance.
5) Answer “No comment,” which can get you into trouble as the media attempts to fill in the gaps with other sources. Instead say, “I don’t know. I need to follow up with you on that question.” Offer a deadline, if possible, and follow up when you say you will.
6) Reiterate the facts of the situation and what you know at the time so that reporters can use those soundbites – Be careful not to say anything that can be taken out of context.
When in doubt, it may be worthwhile to retain the services of a public relations consultant, because protecting the company’s (and your own) reputation is the most important thing that you can do. One misstep in the court of public opinion can result in lost business, credibility, trust, and financial ruin. A PR consultant with help you codify your message, develop talking points, run through a mock interview, and prepare you for a press conference. Remember the Boy Scout motto: “Always Prepared!“