10 tips for the crisis spokesperson
Updated: Nov 30
When a crisis hits, one of the first things an organization must do is identify the spokesperson. Who will your spokesperson in a crisis be? Who will stand in front of the media at press conferences to provide a statement and answer questions? Who will do media interviews? If your stomach is now in knots if that spokesperson is you, I understand. Being the face of a crisis can be nerve-wracking, even for the most seasoned spokesperson.
But don't worry. Below are 10 tips that will not only prepare you for press conferences and interviews but will also ensure your message remains empathetic, focused, and consistent no matter the audience or channel of delivery.
Tips for the Crisis Spokesperson
Ensure all messages and facts have been vetted and approved. If you are not a member of the communication team, you will most likely have a member of the team by your side. They will be the one who writes the messages and receives approval for them. Just the same, before you walk into a press conference or interview be sure that the messages in your hands have been approved and all facts have been vetted.
Match your tone with the severity of the crisis. If you work for the government or are a member of a crisis response team, you may have done these types of interviews many times before and have become comfortable in this environment and with your peers. Perhaps you joke around when you are nervous. Either way, don't joke around and smile when people are suffering.
Empathize and apologize. Oftentimes, organizations want to defend themselves by explaining the circumstances surrounding the event. This is not the time. Instead, recognize and show empathy for what people are experiencing. Attorneys and staff often have a hard time issuing apologies, but if you did something wrong, people have been negatively impacted by your service, or something bad happened on your watch, apologize for your part and own it. Then, explain what you are going to do about it.
Explain what you are going to do about it. Yes, you have shown empathy and apologized, but what are you going to do about it? What is your organization doing right now to solve or address the problem? What is your long-term plan? It may sound something like, "Right now we are focusing on XYZ, but we will be conducting an investigation to find out how this happened so it doesn't happen again."
Give all the facts. Provide all of the information you have confirmed. In a crisis, the approach, "don't tell them if they don't ask," can get you in trouble. If you have not confirmed the information, then by all means don't share it and don't speculate. But the facts behind the crisis will all come out, and it is best to put them all out there rather than prolong the story with dribs and drabs that will make you appear unprepared and untrustworthy.
Answer the question. And I mean answer the question. Some PR advisors will tell you to answer the question you want to answer. That may work for some politicians, but it won't work well for you or your organization. When a reporter asks an uncomfortable question, answer it. Be prepared for it. (See Tip #7.) Give a short answer and then pivot to what people really need to know or what you want to focus on. If you refuse to answer the question, you will look evasive, and the audience will assume you are hiding something. Also, if you refuse to answer, many reporters will answer for you, saying something to the effect of, "Since you declined to answer the question, I will assume the answer is no." Or, "I will assume your company was responsible." You don't want that scenario to play out either.
Prepare for the tough questions. Before the press conference or one-on-one interview, gather the executive team and the staff directly involved with the issue. Identify the hard questions you may be asked and reach agreement on how you will answer them. Practice answering possible questions. Have someone your team ask you questions. Answer them out loud, so you become comfortable with what you are saying. When you answer the question out loud, ask yourself and others, do I sound authentic? Is the answer clear or confusing?
If you don't know the answer, say so. It is okay to say you don't have an answer and that, if it is available, you will get back to the reporter with it.
Don't say "No Comment." Sometimes you just can't or don't want to comment on something. However, saying "no comment" is often interpreted a"they are hiding something." Instead, be prepared for the question, as discussed in Tip #7, or respond that you don't know the answer and you will get back to them. See Tip #8.
Don't lie. It's simple. Don't lie. Trust me. The media and public will find out, and you may no longer have a reputation to protect.
Does your team know who your spokesperson in a crisis will be? Are they, or you, prepared to respond to the media and the public during a crisis? If not, I can help. Contact me at email@example.com and let's get you and your team crisis ready.