The art of crisis communication, part 2

The general consensus, if your centre falls victim to a negative publicity event, is to say nothing unless you are asked. But if you are asked, then you have to say something.

Most journalists will work around the 5Ws and the H of stories: what, when, where, who, why and how? So any response that you prepare must be based around this structure.

One way of doing things is to start with the facts, and then work your way back. You can decide to give the press just enough info, to satisfy their bloodlust for growing the audience (and hence the advertising income). But they don’t need to know it all, especially if there are security issues at hand. So, as an example: what (bomb explodes in centre), when (12:45 today), where (entrance 1 near the movies), who (1 person injured, recovering in hospital), why (Al Qaeda), and how (suitcase left next to dustbin).

Without giving too much away, most releases need to contain the perfunctory “We are working very closely with the police and we are very focused on the safety of all our shoppers, tenants and staff.” It seems completely insincere and probably reads as much, but it offers some comfort, however cold, for the reader.

Remember to send to all possible parties, and ensure that you have a good working relationship with the press. In one instance the local Caxton newspaper requested that we contact them if a major incident happened, instead of attempting to bury the story. But I’ve also had to take an overzealous journalist to task on more than once occasion by reminding them, especially at community newspaper level, that my adspend helps to keep their paper in business, and that I also expect some positive publicity the next time around, not just the doom and gloom.

So, be sure to have a relationship with as many on your media list as possible. This is especially useful in the midst of a crisis, because they can put a face to the press release and are more likely to see it from your perspective too. People don’t like to upset people who like them and whom they like.

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