Magazine article Security Management

"No Comment" Won't Do

Magazine article Security Management

"No Comment" Won't Do

Article excerpt

TO DEAL WITH THE INEVITABLE MEDIA ATTENTION THAT OCCURS DURING A CRISIS, EVERY COMPANY SHOULD HAVE A TEAM AND A PLAN FOR HANDLING THE PRESS.

IT IS 4 P.M. ON A QUIET FRIDAY in August. Top executives are away on vacation or business trips. The corporate headquarters is emptying out as employees leave for the weekend. Suddenly the quiet is broken by the roar of motors, as a horde of television vans appears at the front gate. Satellite dishes sprout on the lawn like mushrooms. Reporters barge into the lobby, microphones thrust like lances into the faces of startled employees. An incident has occurred at one of the company s facilities, and the media wants a comment.

EVERY COMPANY MUST BE prepared for this nightmare. The incident that triggers it could be a pipeline explosion or a hacker attack that paralyzes a corporate Web site. Regardless, the press will want answers. And if the wrong message is given to the press, the damage a company suffers could be irreversible. To deal with the inevitable media attention during a crisis, every company should have a team and a plan.

Assemble a team. A key to a successful crisis plan is forming a crisis management team to deal with the incident, say experts. The team can also be helpful in responding to the media. An ideal team should include the heads of the security and communications departments, as well as representatives from other important corporate divisions, such as the legal, human resources, and operations departments, says Tom Barritt, a senior vice president in the crisis management section at Ketchum Public Relations in New York City.

The team approach gives everyone a chance to work together before trouble strikes. "Too often when we work with a company, the people we work with have not met each other beforehand," notes Ketchum vice president Chris Nelson.

Cooperation is vital for weathering a crisis and dealing well with the media. For example, company spokespersons will be hit with technical questions that only an expert can answer, says public relations consultant James Lukazewski, president of the Lukazewski Group, in White Plains, New York. "I've met very few who could answer every question from reporters," says Lukazewski, a contingency planning expert. The designated media contact needs people from other departments who can explain specifics so that they, in turn, can communicate what transpired to the public and the press.

Security departments can play a vital role in this communication pipeline. "An important part of the security department's job is to get verifiable facts for the communications people," says Brian R. Hollstein, CPP, a security consultant and former security chief for Xerox.

Create a plan. The team's efforts will only be effective if its actions are guided by a well-conceived crisis plan that includes procedures for dealing with the media. A few commonsense steps can help create such a plan, says Lukazewski.

Define policies. While a company cannot predict when or where a problem will strike, it can control its response by making sure that detailed procedures are in place before a crisis strikes. With regard to media relations, the procedures should address basic considerations such as who will be authorized to speak to the press; where and how frequently press briefings will be held; where the press will be allowed to congregate; how press movements will be controlled; how transgressions, such as aggressive attempts by the press to get to a problem area, will be handled; and how information will be coordinated with law enforcement if necessary.

For example, the plan should designate a special media room to which all reporters will be escorted, advises Eugene Tucker, vice president for security and disaster management planning at ADB Insurance and Financial Services in Belmont, California. There, the press can be given prepared media packets that include background information on the company. …

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