Saturday, April 16, 2011

Responding to a Crisis

There was an interesting discussion at an International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) meeting in Louisville, Ky., this week regarding crisis communications. Two veteran TV journalists who have moved to the public relations realm were on the panel. They had very different perspectives when it comes to on-camera appearances during a crisis.

Nel Taylor, the communications lead for a home health care business, says she has a policy of never doing on-camera interviews with a negative story. She says she cooperates and communicates, issues statements, takes responsibility, etc., but declines requests to go on camera. She said her company is spread all over the country and it would be unfair to ask employees to shoulder that responsibility. There is more downside to doing these interviews than upside, she said. TV journalists have so many deadlines it’s difficult for them to take time with a nuanced story, she said. Plus, the medium lends itself to a storytelling style that pits “good guys” against “bad guys.”

Mark Hebert was a hard-hitting statehouse reporter. He is now the PR lead for the University of Louisville. Hebert noted that a public university is different from a private institution in structure and scope. U of L doesn’t get a lot of national media (outside of sports). He knows or has worked with most of the TV reporters who contact him. Furthermore, Hebert spends about 25 percent of his time pitching positive stories. Reporters wouldn’t be receptive to him if he wouldn’t go on camera during a crisis, he said. Plus, reporters can always “ambush” a public person like the president of a university anyway.

They both took an optimistic outlook on social media. Hebert said he treats bloggers just like other journalists, as long as they behave like them. Taylor conceded that news moves faster in this environment, but so can the response.

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