Note: Last week, when reviewing his awesome new book, The Media Training Bible, I mentioned the excellent point Brad Phillips makes about everybody needing to be trained to handle the media in a crisis, from your receptionist to your security guard to the spouses of your executives. I thought it important to elaborate on this very critical piece of awesome advice, so today, I am pleased to provide you with an excerpt from his book. The following is Brad’s lesson #84 out of “101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview”:
Lesson 84. Truth Six: Your Receptionist Needs Media Training
I once wrote an article for the Mr. Media Training Blog to help executives prepare for an unexpected crisis; it included the following suggestion:
“If a journalist calls you and asks you for comment about a breaking crisis that you haven’t heard about yet, you don’t have to comment immediately. Tell the reporter it’s the first you’ve heard about it, that you’ll look into it immediately, and that you’ll return their phone call as soon as you know more.”
I thought that was sound advice, but a journalist wrote in to take me to task. She wrote this pointed response:
“Who cares if executives turn down an interview? I regularly circumvent the executives at the beginning of a crisis. I prefer to start talking to the receptionist instead. He or she always knows more anyway—and they’re usually more willing to talk.”
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That’s a good point. Reporters occasionally avoid “official” channels in an effort to get more candid, less scripted responses from staffers lower on the hierarchy chart. And too often, receptionists—notoriously more plugged in to company gossip than most are—inadvertently say something to reporters that they shouldn’t.
It’s always a good idea to train your receptionists how to handle media calls, but it’s even more critical to prepare them for an unexpected crisis.
Receptionists are your frontline personnel. They’re frequently the first people to learn of a crisis, tipped off by a phone call from a reporter, a colleague, or a stranger. There’s little point in investing thousands of dollars to train your executive team how to manage a crisis effectively if your receptionists or administrative assistants undermine your best efforts by saying something they shouldn’t.
And it’s not just receptionists. You should also prepare security guards, who may be the first people to greet uninvited camera crews. If security guards aren’t told otherwise, their first instinct too often is to place a hand in front of the camera’s lens while impolitely telling the cameraperson to get lost. That aggressive footage usually gets aired.
Don’t overlook the spouses of your executives, either. They may answer their home phones during a burgeoning crisis and say something like, “Yeah, I think there was an explosion or something at the plant. But you just missed Dawn—she already headed down there.”
Oops. Dawn’s husband just became the reporter’s confirming source.
You don’t have to enroll your receptionists, security guards, and other support personnel in a media training class. Instead, create a policy that describes the protocol for unexpected contacts with the media. Share it with your entire staff. Don’t just do it once—they’ll need regular reminders.
And remember: When you have temps staffing your phones along the way, fill them in on your media procedures. Those “temps” have your company’s reputation in their hands.
Additional Note from Melissa Agnes: This sound advice isn’t just meant for the traditional media. Reporters and intrigued clients and the public can easily reach out to different members of your staff via Twitter and other online channels in a crisis. Make sure that your policies include when, where and how to respond to such online inquiries. A simple question sent via Twitter can be less threatening than a reporter calling the office or showing up at the receptionist’s desk, so it’s important that your staff realize that the consequences can be just as dire by replying to the “innocent” tweet.
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