As initial details emerged after the Boston Marathon bombings in April, questions poured in as people around the world begged for answers. As after any unforeseen event, the people who know the most must wait until they have as many facts as possible before they share details, being mindful of the sensitive nature of evidence and how it may affect legal proceedings. But these officials—in this case, law enforcement personnel—were remiss in their duty to try to quash early rumors.
Hours after the explosions near the finish line on Boylston Street, Boston’s police chief balked at this responsibility. When asked by reporters if the explosions were a terrorist attack, he responded, “You can draw your own conclusions.”
This statement essentially gave journalists permission to not rely on facts in their reporting. Ironically, when President Obama later made a statement about the tragedy, he said, “We still do not know who did this or why, and people should not jump to conclusions before we have all the facts. But we will find out who did this and we’ll find out why they did this. The responsible individuals and groups will feel the full weight of justice.”
Whether it’s a tragic crime or a developing business story, the rules of engagement with the media remain the same. Present the facts and stick to the story if you want a shot at controlling the message.
Reporters look to you for information. When you give them permission to find it elsewhere—when you hand over the reins of shaping the story—you lose control of the message. When you provide the answers, you lessen the likelihood reporters will seek information elsewhere.
Your success with this will increase after you establish and maintain relationships with key reporters before tragedy or controversy strikes. And it requires you to know your company, your workforce and your processes inside and out. Strive for accessibility, transparency and proficient coordination of investor relations and public relations.
So when you’re asked about your faulty equipment, the employee lawsuit or your competitor’s success, your response should be filled with facts rather than a permission slip to find answers anywhere.
Do you have a plan on handling media relations during a crisis?