Part Three of the 1999 ‘Guide’ focused on ‘Crisis Management’. Abridged excerpts from that section follows:
FACING THE MEDIA
It needs to be stressed that there is no single correct way of dealing with the media or their representatives. Not only does each medium have a different approach to the way that news stories are presented – and different constraints in terms of how much information they can impart within the space restrictions and time frames allotted to them – but each incident has its own peculiarities that sets it apart from every other.
It’s also necessary to consider the personalities of the news-gatherers themselves.
The attitude that a spokesperson presents to journalists and reporters – coupled with the media correspondent’s own background experiences, prejudices and knowledge (or lack thereof) about diving – will have a strong influence on the way that the story develops, and ultimately on how the dive operator’s actions are perceived by the public.
How well a dive operator understands human nature, is as important as knowing what to say; when, how and to whom to say it – and what not to say. In most instances an operator is only going to have one chance to get it right. There will be no rehearsals.
Once delivered, there will be few, if any, opportunities to retract or change a statement or media release without the spokesperson appearing to be defensive, foolish, or unreliable as an informed source.
And there’s always the real possibility that their words, once broadcast and published, will come back to haunt them – particularly if those comments are later used against them by a plaintiff lawyer acting on behalf of an injured party or their family.
No matter how confident the dive operator is in the correctness of their actions and procedures – or their ability to handle searching questions – an imprudent remark can have devastating consequences.
A key part of any Risk Management plan should include access to a previously determined legal representative. Preferably one who is familiar with diving and the dive operator’s mode of business. Seeking professional legal advice as soon as is possible after an incident – and before making any detailed statement to the media – is not a tacit admission of guilt or wrongdoing. It is a sensible precaution that can help protect the dive operator from his or her own naiveté.
Because it’s impossible, other than in general terms, to anticipate the form that a crisis might take, advance preparations in terms of what information to present to the media can only be a speculative exercise. (In some instances – especially when the operator is not directly involved in the incident – it is more prudent to do and say nothing, rather than invite unnecessary attention.)
There are, however, many steps that can be taken in terms of how information might be presented.
That even simple and straightforward comments can easily become distorted, is best illustrated by the story supposedly set in the trenches during the First World War. The decision to charge the enemy across No-Man’s Land necessitated passing a message by word of mouth down the line. What began as, “Send reinforcements, we’re going to advance”, gradually degenerated into, “Send three-and-four-pence, we’re going to a dance.”
The same confusion can surround a diving incident. When a number of people – either from within or from outside the organisation – volunteer an opinion on what has occurred, messages can become mixed and contradict the original facts. Such apparently conflicting views only serve to fuel the flames as regards a story’s news potential.
The most effective way of controlling the flow of information is to have it come from the mouth of a single individual. This is best accomplished by designating a person possessing all of the appropriate qualities to act – when, and if, required – as the organisation’s spokesperson.
Following an incident, that person should be prepared to accept total responsibility for managing all media enquiries. Theirs should be the only voice from within the organisation that the media hears.
Ideally a spokesperson should be:
Articulate and presentable.
Somebody who occupies a position of responsibility within the organisation.
A person who is familiar with all aspects of the business.
A person possessing a sound knowledge of diving.
A person who is capable of projecting a positive image of the dive operator’s business – and of diving in general.
An empathetic person who, where necessary, can project compassion without compromising the operator’s position.
Given that many dive operations are small businesses, it may well be the case that the designated spokesperson is directly involved in an incident. With that in mind, it may be politic to appoint both a primary and a secondary spokesperson.
It should be impressed on all employees that nobody other than the elected spokesperson is to answer media enquiries. This is something that sounds easy in theory but that often becomes more problematic in the face of persistent questioning. (See: ‘Telephone Interviews’ and ‘Interview Referrals’.)
First impressions count and the image that a spokesperson presents to the media will have a strong influence on how the story unfolds.
No matter how articulate the person, or how professional the dive operation, the public’s perception of a dive operator’s role in an incident will be judged by appearance – particularly when television or press photographers are in attendance.
Because a crisis situation occurs without warning, it’s imperative that the appointed spokesperson avoids face-to-face media contact until they have properly acquainted themselves with all of the facts, and is both mentally prepared and outwardly presentable. (Appearing in front of reporters in a dishevelled state, wearing a ragged, oil-stained ‘T’-shirt because the spokesperson happened to be engaged in compressor maintenance will not be to the dive operator’s advantage.)
In terms of image, the ideal spokesperson should be:
Neat and conservative in attire. (This does not preclude being smartly casual.)
Clean cut and well groomed. (Facial hair should be neatly trimmed.)
Physically fit in appearance.
Attractive without the need to be overly ‘glamorous’.
Mature enough to exude confidence in their knowledge and abilities (but still capable of projecting a youthful image.)
Further attributes of a ‘spokesperson continues in Part 4
Categories: Crisis Management Manual