How to Work With Reporters During a Crisis
Many of the do’s and don’ts of working with reporters generally (such as pitching stories) also apply to crisis situations. But there are some differences. It’s constructive to compare and contrast.
The main difference is that if you’re experiencing a public crisis, such as a robbery or explosion, the reporters will be coming to you rather than you having to beg them to write about your new widget.
But that’s not always the case. Most reporters prefer to be contacted by email, and that’s probably how you should distribute your statements about the crisis. You may want to follow up with calls to make sure the journalists got the statement, and you should have a media list and PR team to do that.
That list should help ensure that you’re contacting the right writer. Just as with non-crisis story pitches, you want to reach out to the correct people. As with typical reporter contacts, succinctness is good, and your headline (or email subject line) is important.
Even in a crisis you may come across reporters who resent having to work with PR reps. Don’t sweat it — just be professional. The same rules apply in terms of asking the reporters if they’re on deadline (though they’re probably on deadline on your crisis) and if they have time to talk.
In crises, reporters will have questions that go outside your statement. Try to accommodate them. Reporters’ jobs are getting harder and harder, and they will appreciate the help. If you can answer certain questions only on background, then do that.
Try not to make demands that will slow the reporters down — such as asking them to confirm whatever quote they will use.
We’re not big fans of press conferences for crises (they’re hard to control, and tend to get out of hand), but if you decide to do one, have a sign-in sheet so you know who attended.
Finally, listen to what the journalists are hearing about your incident — that information may help you succeed in your crisis response.
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