“By the time you hear the thunder, it’s too late to build the ark”, someone once said.
In corporate terms, that first clap of thunder can be anything from the sound of collapsing shares to the roar of flames consuming a factory or HQ. A second roll of thunder follows almost immediately, signalling the arrival of the media.
Yet there is barely an “ark” in sight.
It is astonishing how few companies or organisations have even the barest preparations in place to handle the media, even though the media’s response can swiftly move events from crisis to catastrophe.
Most large organisations have a crisis plan, and many practice it regularly, but it invariably deals only with internal response and recovery. The plan hardly ever takes the media onslaught into consideration.
It can be a major logistical challenge. The details are important – where will you put the media, often arriving in large numbers? How will you keep them informed? Who will keep them informed?
Just as important, where will you stage news conferences? Where can broadcast interviews be recorded? Where can camera crews set up?
Then, as the questions begin, what will you tell them? How much can you, or will you, tell them? Can your spokespeople hold the company line under intense questioning?
Have you prepared background material, biogs of senior figures in the company? Are they ready to be handed out?
For the media who are not on site, is there a dedicated phone line available – keeping the main phone lines open to deal with the crisis?
Reporters will usually start by asking the predictable questions. “What has happened?” “Why/how did it happen?” “Who’s at fault?” “Could it happen again?”. But they will be sharing those answers with their media rivals. They will also want a story of their own, an “exclusive”. So can you keep them in check? Can you stop them nosing around, disappearing to talk to other members of the workforce?
And can you accomplish all this in a matter of minutes, before the 24-hour news machines have a chance to speculate and exaggerate?
So many questions. Yet the answers are vital because they will determine whether this is seen as a crisis met with assurance and skill, or portrayed as an accident waiting to happen.
Who can you turn to for help? Just as a reformed burglar is best-equipped to advise on home security, no one is better qualified than an experienced journalist to spot and plug the gaps in your media response.