|Five Questions about Reputation Risk, Crisis Management, and the Need for Effective Crisis Communication Plans and Scenario-Based Training
Carl Brockmeyer is President and General Manager of Leybold USA Inc., which is based in Pennsylvania.
What do you regard as the critical aspects of reputation risk and crisis management that senior managers should know about?
Simply put, how a company responds to a crisis determines if its stakeholders will have continued faith in the company’s commitment to the quality of its products and services. It does not matter if the crisis is caused by a product malfunction, a serious workplace incident, a natural disaster, or otherwise. Customers and other key stakeholders will conclude that how the company manages a crisis is indicative of how it will deal with them if and when an issue arises.
Management should therefore not delay developing a customized crisis readiness strategy. The goal must be to have the company prepared as best as possible when a crisis happens. That includes managerial, operational, and communication related crisis readiness.
How important is it to have a tested crisis communication plan that also covers preparing for and responding to crises that are started or exacerbated by social media content?
That is very important. Without a comprehensive crisis communication plan that also addresses social media the overall crisis response is bound to fail. During my career I have experienced situations which called for executing crisis response plans that utilized internal resources as well as external support. C4CS® has been helping Leybold in the U.S., and we are grateful to have trusted advisers by our side.
As we continue to increase our crisis readiness, further developing our communication response capabilities, including refining and testing plans, is critical. Our goal is to prepare for likely high impact scenarios long before a crisis actually happens. And we know that despite thorough crisis prevention a critical event can occur pretty much at any time.
Is participating in scenario-based crisis communication training a must in terms of increasing the level of organizational crisis readiness and preparing for successful crisis communication with internal and external stakeholders?
If you look at everything that must be done to respond effectively to a crisis, it quickly becomes evident that postponing crisis communication training until an actual crisis occurs can easily cause the entire response to fall apart. No doubt about it, training is at the heart of enabling crisis readiness because plans must be exercised. Finding the right trainers and developing a long term relationship with them are essential pieces of the puzzle. Waiting to take the first step until a crisis has arisen, however, makes it extremely unlikely that management will react effectively.
Anyone who has gone through a high-quality crisis communication training that is constructed around a realistic crisis scenario knows that as a result of the training he or she is far better prepared to step up to the pressures of the moment in a crisis. Moreover, what a training participant takes away from crisis communication training can be of critical value to guiding other managers in how the company should respond to a crisis.
Who in your opinion should participate in recurring crisis communication training and how frequently should it be conducted?
Depending on the size of the company and the geographical footprint, recurring crisis communication training should be provided to all primary and backup members of crisis response teams at the local, regional, and national level, as well as at global headquarters. The crisis response teams should be comprised of managers from relevant functional areas such as operations, finance, marketing, legal, communications, and human resources. Ideally other key managers and topical experts should also participate.
There should be an initial scenario-based training followed by annual or semi-annual refresher training. Each training should be customized and use a unique crisis scenario.
How should company-specific crisis scenarios be used, and should crisis communication training also include on-camera media interview practices?
Company-specific crisis scenarios make the training more realistic, and therefore more valuable, for the participating managers. Using realistic crisis scenarios is also an excellent way for primary and backup members of the crisis response team to become more familiar with one another. In order to maximize skills development, the crisis scenarios should be different for each training and not known to the participants prior to the training.
On-camera media interview practices are important training components because interacting with the news media and other key stakeholders during a crisis is challenging, including for managers who have previously received regular media training. Even if you think that an in-person media interview is very unlikely, you can never be sure that a crisis will not result in one or more potentially challenging media interviews. In any event, media interview practice is of tremendous value when it comes to preparing for any crisis situation. Particularly for medium-sized and larger companies, different types of media interviews, mock news conferences, simulated community and employee town hall meetings, etc. should be included in the crisis communication training. That will allow managers to improve their on-camera media interview and presentation communication skills and enable them to work more effectively with reporters from print, broadcast and social media, as well as with other stakeholders, when crisis strikes.
Media Interview Preparation Steps
C4CS® regularly works with managers who request assistance concerning preparing for media interview opportunities. Our goal is to develop skills building sessions that are challenging but not too advanced. We therefore customize training format, content, and delivery to fit the client partner's and the individual manager's needs.
Even if there is little time to get ready for a news media interview, we try to cover message development as well as non-verbal and verbal message delivery. For TV interviews, on-camera interview practices that are taped and later reviewed and critiqued are a critical skills building tool.
If there is more time for interview preparation, our group media training and one-on-one spokesperson skills coaching also convey core fundamentals such as the role of the news media and how traditional print and broadcast media and bloggers work. In addition, we teach media interview techniques and walk group training participants and coachees through what they should and should not do before, during, and after media interviews using real life examples and anecdotes.
No matter how much time a manager has to prepare for a media interview opportunity, going through the steps listed below will make her or him more comfortable delivering targeted messages and representing the company in a favorable way. And because practice makes perfect, we encourage all of our client partners to schedule regular refresher media training and executive media skills coaching so every manager who speaks on behalf of the company has the necessary knowledge and skills to function as an effective spokesperson.
If you have questions concerning this article, or if you would like to receive our C4CS® Media Training & Spokesperson Skills Building Q&A, please contact us. We look forward to hearing from you.
- Gather and write down relevant information and facts concerning the interview topic(s) and issue(s) at hand.
- Determine the interview type, as well as when, where, by whom (reporter) and with whom (spokesperson) the interview will be conducted, and research the assigned reporter's interview style and previous stories.
- Organize and memorize relevant information and facts according to importance and likelihood of usage during the interview.
- Brainstorm for possible questions and how you can best answer them and write everything down.
- Determine what you want to accomplish with the interview and write down your goals in order of importance. View the interview as an opportunity to convey your messages.
- Develop up to three key messages and related talking points which you want to deliver in order to accomplish your interview goals. Write everything down.
- Think about relevant examples and comparisons that will make your case stronger and write them down next to the corresponding potential questions and your key messages.
- Identify confidential information and determine how you will respond to questions concerning such information.
- Revisit preparation steps four through eight and seek input from your colleagues and external advisers regarding your approach.
- Decide what you are going to wear for the interview and practice body language and facial expressions.
- Familiarize yourself with reporters' interview techniques or tactics and how you should react.
- Repeatedly practice answering likely questions with someone as well as in front of a mirror.
- A media interview coach will be able to further sharpen your skills and enhance your level of comfort regarding different interview types and situations. Participate in group media training and consider one-on-one media coaching in preparation for specific interview opportunities.
- Especially if you anticipate being interviewed by an antagonistic reporter, repeatedly practice transitioning from potential questions to your key messages. Practice flagging and hooking, which are media interview techniques you should also learn to use.
- Remain calm and collected, review your interview goals and key messages, take a couple of deep breaths, and do not forget to greet the interviewer and other media staff.
Food For Thought
“You are on a factual landscape and the audience
you need to reach is on an emotional landscape,
so you need to bridge that."