In countless seminars and articles, we are reminded of the need for every business to have a crisis management plan. Certainly the recent food safety issues have branded that lesson in the collective memory of the food industry.
Pretty typical for these recommendations is that they urge each organization to appoint a single spokesperson for dealing with the media. This makes sense, of course, as nobody wants conflicting messages getting out there or people who don’t know what they are talking about jabbering away.
However, our experience in dealing with these “spokespersons” over the past several months has led us to want to give a reminder: The purpose of answering press inquiries is to put them to rest.
If the spokesperson is not, personally, in a position to know the answer to a question, it is not going to put those inquiries to rest if the press spokesperson just says that they spoke to some anonymous person in the organization and this anonymous person says it never happened.
Although a press representative can serve as a communication funnel, the question should be answered by either a relevant person: “I took your question to Joe Smith, our Operations Director, and he assures me that he personally had walked the field in question every week while the product was growing and, subsequently, has reviewed all the records and is willing to state for the record that no copper was ever applied to this field.”
Or the question can be answered by a very important person in the company: “I took your question directly to Jane Jacobs, our Founder and CEO, and she wants you to know that she has personally checked it out and no copper was used on that field for at least three years.”
Sometimes people think they are being horribly clever and won’t associate the name of anyone important with an answer. You can make that decision, but just understand that you are deciding to keep the issue alive. Because what any reporter listening to that spokesperson speaking in his own name is going to be asking is this: What if he was lied to?
A tenet of effective crisis management is being forthright and honest. Having an expendable person answering questions in his own name regarding things he has no first-hand knowledge about, is not an effective way to convey an impression of honesty and forthrightness.