Can one bad message ruin a crisis response?

Posted by Gina Pappas on May 4, 2010 |

Watching Meredith Vieira’s interview of BP CEO Tony Hayward Monday on The Today Show, I was amazed to hear the first words out of his mouth: “It wasn’t our accident.”

Although Hayward recovered under the pressure of Vieira’s questioning – he delivered his other message points despite her best efforts to take him off-track – his opening shot certainly colored the public response to his interview.  Next day headlines included:  BP Chief Claims Oil Spill ‘Wasn’t Our Accident’ Despite BP Role In Running Rig (video).  

Making a bold first statement that seemingly passes the buck on your company’s responsibility might be a smart legal maneuver, but it isn’t an ideal PR tactic in the face of a crisis. Someone on the BP response team must have alerted Hayward to this point, because he seemed to back away from the blame game in some of his other interviews on Monday, including one with National Public Radio.

We conduct a fair share of media training and, most of the time (thankfully), our clients’ media exposure isn’t due to a crisis. However, preparing for any media interview takes time, strategy and practice, specifically when it comes to narrowing in on the right messages.

After developing your message points, it’s important to practice your delivery. Consider the questions a reporter might ask, and have your PR firm or a co-worker go through a role-playing exercise. Practicing your message points out loud will help you refine them for the media. This dry run will also gauge how you handle the pressure.

At the time of the interview, have an idea of how you will drive the media back to your message if things begin to go off-track. Use bridging language such as, “What’s really important for the viewers to know is…,” and go back to the point that’s most applicable to the question.

How a company handles a media interview can make or break future consumer relationships. I know there are people posting on social media sites that they will never patronize a BP station again. 

The lesson from The Today Show interview is that if you have the wrong message, it doesn’t matter how good you are at delivering it.

 

 

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