In getting your message across, work with media

Risk managers often see the media as enemies trying to show you at your worst, but you’re better off looking at reporters as potential allies. That may be hard when they’re firing aggressive questions at you, but with the right approach you can use the media to get your message to the public, say June Leigh, CPHRM, RN, BSN, MS, FASHRM, ARM, risk control director with CNA HealthPro in Chicago, and Nancy Lagorio, RN, MS, CCLA, a risk control consultant with the company.

There are three key factors that will determine how much media coverage your crisis gets: the number of people affected, the severity of the crisis, and the location. When communicating with the media, Leigh and Lagorio advise following these rules:

  • Appoint a primary spokesperson. That might be the risk manager, but it often is the director of communications or someone else who is comfortable on camera and familiar with how the media work.
  • Respect reporters’ deadlines. Schedule announcements and press conferences at times that help them make their deadlines for print publications and the day’s newscasts.
  • Return calls promptly, even if you can only reply that there is nothing new to relate.
  • Don’t make off-the-record comments. They can make their way into the news.
  • Use third-party allies as support.
  • Keep employees informed. Don’t let them hear important news from the media.
  • Use external resources to train anyone who may be called on to act as a spokesperson.
  • Build rapport with the media so they are not strangers during a crisis.
  • Draft a news media protocol.
  • Draft general media responses.
  • Rehearse regularly.

Dos and don’ts for working with media

Lagorio also offers these dos and don’ts for communicating with the media:

  • Don’t get caught in “good vs. bad” by entertaining questions about who is to blame.
  • Don’t say, “No comment.” Even if you really can’t comment, find another way to say it. The phrase “no comment” has come to be seen as a defensive way of stonewalling reporters and implies you have something to hide.
  • Don’t speculate.
  • Don’t interview in crisis areas, such as the emergency department, triage area, or the unit where a mistake occurred. Conduct all interviews in a neutral, calm area.
  • Don’t repeat negative statements in responses.
  • Don’t mislead or block information.