Johanna Schneider, executive director of external relations at the Business Roundtable, authored a fine article in PR Week magazine, "The evolving role of the media in covering disasters." It nicely details the impacts of the 24-hour news cycle and ubiquitous mobile devices with the ability to record or stream live video and sound.
"Technology has enabled journalists to broadcast from the frontlines of disasters, strengthening reporting, as well as changing the dynamic of the media's responsibility – which now often includes disseminating information about survivors' needs and directing audiences to charities to donate cash, products and volunteer services," writes Schneider.
Together, these developments make the job of crisis communications planning and crisis response more challenging than ever. What can you do to protect your organization's reputation in times of crisis -- and perhaps enhance its reputation in the aftermath? Schneider offers the following recommendations based on feedback from a media panel that included Jeanne Meserve, CNN; Kelley Holland, contributor to The New York Times; Brad Heath, USA Today; Amanda Ripley, Time Magazine; and Kelly Flynn, CNN-Impact Your World:
Develop relationships with the media before a disaster: Businesses, first responders, and the government need to have strong relationships in place with the media before a disaster occurs to allow for more effective and efficient communication.
Be proactive in reaching out to the media: The media value the business perspective during the chaos of a disaster. Strong relations with the media can help companies get the word out on how their operations are affected by a disaster and can also provide an opportunity to highlight companies' philanthropic response.
Empower employees to share their stories about their company's response efforts: The media have changed their “old school” approach from simply giving the public facts and figures about disasters to showcasing individuals who are taking action and contributing to the relief effort – perhaps as part of a company-sponsored volunteer effort. For example, CNN has established Impact Your World to provide its viewers with a place to share stories and information about relief agencies and how to donate to them.
Take an active role in communicating about disaster preparedness: The media recognizes that preparedness is a critical component of disaster response, but acknowledged that it is challenging to cover in a compelling way. Therefore, panelists recommended that the media, business, and government should re-frame the issue of preparedness and communicate about it more consistently to persuade employees and citizens to be better prepared before the next disaster strikes.
Schneider's recommendations are spot on. I especially like the recommendation to enable and encourage the participation of employees to help the organization get the message out that it is mobilizing all its resources to respond. Too often, organizations miss the opportunity to showcase the caring, helpful faces of employees in times of trouble because of worries that the employee could say the wrong thing.
That's why we recommend conducting basic Media Interview Skills Training for employees at all levels -- to give management confidence to engage employees at all levels of the organization to speak with the media when it is strategic to do so.