5 Crisis Communications tips for Weathering a Media Storm

There’s an art to getting your business in the media, and at the end of March we’ll be hosting a free webinar in partnership with the Wanneroo Business Association on this very topic.

But while they say any publicity is good publicity, in a crisis situation it’s the last thing you want or need.

Because when the media turns its eye on your business – or your life – it can feel very intimidating, stressful and confusing. 

While big businesses, politicians and other public figures can employ armies of flak catchers, spokespeople and media managers to manage their crisis communications, there’s not much out there for everyday people and small businesses who get hit with a media storm.

This came into focus last year when a friend got in touch to ask for help with a family that had suffered an intense tragedy. They were being bombarded with calls from journalists to tell their story, and they just wanted the whole thing to go away while they dealt with their situation.

I’ve worked as a journalist for fifteen years. I’ve been one of the people making those calls. 

So I came up with five pieces of advice for them that I think are applicable to both personal and business situations for when the media comes knocking, and you’d rather pretend not to be home.

preparing for press conference
1. It’s not personal

When you’re on the wrong end of the media scrum it can feel as though journalists are out to get you. 

Rest assured, for the vast majority, it’s not personal. Most of them are good, decent, ethical people covering a difficult story.

If you are dealing with a personal tragedy that’s of interest to the media, it can feel incredibly intrusive to have journalists asking questions. If your business is in trouble, they can feel like enemies, probing for weaknesses, trying to take you down.

But journalists ask questions and seek answers. There is often a great deal of sympathy, empathy and simple curiosity driving the inquiries.

So try to view them as professionals doing a job that sometimes takes them into difficult territory.

speaking to media
2. Feed the beast

The news cycle moves quickly and demands new events, facts and insights every hour – and sometimes every minute.

In the industry we call it the beast; it needs to be fed, and doesn’t care what it tastes like. 

The news may be hungry, but it also moves quickly, so if you give it something to chew on then it’s likely to move on to the next story.

This means, don’t ignore the media if they are banging on your door – the sooner you deal with them, the sooner they will go away. So if you are being bombarded with questions, issue a crisis communications statement. That’s what under the pump politicians and big brands, and you can too.

You can draft up an email and send it to the newsrooms of the outlets chasing you. Their websites will generally have a main email contact, or you can engage the journalists chasing you.

Keep it simple, to the point, and only say what you want to say.

Whether it is for radio, TV or online, you can call a press conference and read the statement out, and then leave it at that. You are under no obligation to answer any more questions thrown your way.

If the media storm you are under is of a more personal nature, you can also ask a trusted family member or friend to read the statement so you don’t have to front the cameras.


3. Pick a favourite

You may have a number of journos chasing you for a comment, and yet you’ll probably be in no mood to speak to each of them separately. 

So, pick the one that you feel most comfortable with and give them a crisis communications statement – or if you’re up to it, an interview.

This is known as an exclusive – but if you are feeling more inclusive then ask the media for a ‘pool’ interview. This is where one journo does it on behalf of all the rest, and then sends the interview to all the other journalists who are interested in the story.

This way you only have to speak to one person, hopefully once, and then it is over with.

Most journos are respectful and professional, though they will be persistent, which is a hallmark of the trade. Some take it too far, but they are rare.

If you must pick one journalist, go with the one who showed you the most respect. In general, news organisations such as the ABC are less likely to sensationalise the story compared to media outlets such as the Daily Mail.

It might be handy to develop a relationship with a journalist, as it will allow you to tell your side of the story in a more sympathetic light.

press conference
4. Dos and Don’ts for handling your crisis communications

Here is a rundown of some quick dos and don’ts to make sure your meeting with the media goes off without a hitch.

  • Remember that fronting up to a press conference can be very daunting and journalists might yell out questions to you. Take a deep breath and repeat yourself if you need to. Don’t feel inclined to answer the media’s questions – it’s important you stick to the message you’ve drafted.
  • Read the statement word-for-word so that you can revise what you are saying before you get up and speak. That way you won’t say anything in error.
  • Try and make eye contact if possible. If you don’t feel confident enough to make the statement yourself, get someone else in the business to do it on your behalf.
  • Provide as much information to the journalists as possible. Give them all the important details so that they don’t hypothesise their own theories! But stick to the facts and try not to get emotional.
  • Try and respect journalists’ deadlines and get your statement out as quickly as possible. The journalists will thank you for it.
  • Ever lie. You WILL be found out and it will make your situation a whole lot worse.
  • Be defensive or play the blame game. It makes you look professional if you accept responsibility for any wrongdoings.
  • If you are thrown an awkward question, or are asked something you don’t know the answer to, be honest. Say you will look into it and get back to that reporter.
  • Front up unprepared – it’ll only backfire!
  • Fidget or look uncomfortable. Practise multiple times so you look confident.
crisis communications
5. Leave it alone

If your business is in trouble, any energy you spend dealing with the media takes away from your ability to deal with the situation.

If you’ve suffered a personal tragedy, any energy you spend dealing with the media takes away from your ability to grieve, or help others that need it.

Telling our side of the story is a very human thing – a natural compulsion that should be honoured as much as you are comfortable with.

But once done, it’s wise to switch media engagement off and concentrate on the situation you find yourself in. There may be opportunities later to speak to the media again – but that can wait.

If the media storm continues to intensify, it might be wise to seek help from a professional communications firm to help deal with the storm.

But know that this too shall pass. And you’ll get through it. 

Want some help with crafting a crisis communications statement? Download our template below.




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