Watching the extraordinarily cack-handed response of Ask.FM to the suicide of Hannah Smith following her being cyber-bullied on their website, have a look at this video clip from Sky News doorstepping an employee of Ask.FM here.
When covering your organisation’s issue or crisis, journalists will try to speak with senior executives. If your organisation has pulled down the shutters on its communication – rarely a winning strategy – the media may well try to get a quote from any employee no matter how junior.
Receptionists, security guards and junior staff can unwittingly fuel your crisis by offering up information they should not. They may find it difficult to resist a persistent journalist who will tag them as a ‘representative of the organisation’ fully aware of how unfair and unreasonable this may be (as in the above video clip where the employee being harassed is Latvian and forced to respond in English).
A receptionist or security guard valued in the workplace for their friendly and helpful manner day-to-day can be just as chatty with a journalist, unwittingly providing background detail and flavour for the story. Equally, the member of staff who stonewalls and comes across as uncooperative or defensive can irritate journalists and make the organisation look unsympathetic.
So crisis media training or at least ‘media awareness’ for such staff should form part of your planning and preparation for crisis and issues management. Our most progressive clients get this and ask us to do so.
And key advice to such staff? Follow two rules:
Act professionally – be calm, polite and helpful, offering to bring the journalist’s questions to the attention of the Communications department
Avoid speculation – make clear that you are not qualified to respond on the company’s behalf – a little humour can help here (e.g. “you will understand that such things are way above my paygrade but I will let the Communications department know you are here” or “as the saying goes, I just work here, but I will let the Communications department know you are here”) – and stick to the media brief you have hopefully been given by the PR team.