The interview given by TD Maria Bailey last week to RTÉ Radio1’s Sean O’Rourke about her swing fall and the personal injury claim she was pursuing against a Dublin hotel made for uncomfortable listening.
There has been a lot of negative coverage subsequently. I have no doubt that Bailey believed she had a right in taking a case and was clearly going to take the opportunity to address the nation, offering her viewpoint on the story.
However, in this instance, the theory didn’t quite work out so well in practice and evolved into something different.
So, putting that example aside and speaking generally, how do you prepare for a media storm?
As a PR advisor to senior executives and business owners, my role is threefold and centred around reputation management.
Firstly, to make their product, service or offering appealing to audiences who matter most.
Secondly, to present them as an effective leader or company spokesperson who is informative and engaging with a distinctive point of view and a clear vision for the future.
Thirdly, and if possible, to prevent or minimise potential communication pitfalls.
Every issue is different and there is no one size fits all solution. However, if any of you reading this find yourselves in a tight corner and under a media spotlight, let me give you some “tip of the iceberg” advice:
Plan: If you believe that there are issues that will arise and which could negatively impact your business reputation, ensure that you have pre-prepared an issues management protocol that clearly sets out the essential steps needed to handle an issue internally and externally. It’s a navigation tool that provides structure to what’s required.
Breathe: This is so basic, but it’s vital. Find a moment to clear your mind and carefully consider next steps. Avoid tripping-up and instead react to developments from a place of considered calm and not foolhardy emotion.
360 degrees: Forensically look at your story from all angles. Does it make sense? Is it credible? Are there gaps that need to be explained or actions taken where you need to provide a rationale or context? What are the worst questions you can be asked? Think about them and prepare.
Advice: Work with confidantes who understand the media and what media engagement strategy to adopt. Should communications be a general news release, an exclusive interview, or a pre-recorded statement given to journalists? How available should you be? What is the correct tone to adopt?
No Gloss: Don’t even think about doing anything but telling the facts as you know them. Sometimes there is no room for gloss when only bare simple facts will do.
Apologies: If you’re at fault, own it with a full-hearted apology to those impacted by your actions, offering to do better in the future and flag further actions – new procedures, compensation etc. And if you are the injured party and the facts are on your side, pursue an apology and remedial action with full vigour.
David O’Brien is the founder of Commssolver Public Relations.