PR Insight: Crisis on
Camera: Are you Prepared?
Consider a media training program for your senior managers
May 7, 2009
Want to strike fear into your senior management team? Tell them a TV reporter is outside looking for them. Of course, most senior managers thrive under pressure. Creating reports, budgeting, giving presentationsit's all in a day's work, right? But when it comes to speaking on camera, most senior managers run and hide. They get nervous about saying the wrong things. They worry about looking unprepared. And they worry about getting that, "deer-in-the-headlights" look (which isn't so bad if you're having a good hair day).
As the largest credit union in Arizona, Desert Schools Federal Credit Union is top of mind with local media. The relationships we've built with reporters have helped us get the word out about our community giving, financial literacy and marketing programs. And we've positioned Desert Schools FCU as a financial expert when it comes to such topics as lending, the economy and other trends that affect the quality of life in our state.
Recently, as the current financial crisis came into focus, the nature of our PR efforts changed. Sure, we still love talking about all the great things our employees and volunteers accomplish in the community. But something is clearly different now. Times are tough. Mistrust of financial institutions is at an all-time high. Robberies of all financial institutions across our city are up. Member confidence is down. And the media isn't helping.
So how can you protect the image of your credit union against a backdrop of fear and uncertainty?
Do's and Don'ts for Crisis Interviews
Crisis interviews can be a positive experience for your credit union. Here are a few tips for your organization during these tough times:
Consider developing an internal media training workshop to help senior managers effectively understand and practice effective on-camera speaking skills in crisis situations. Whether you're a small credit union in a rural community or a large urban institution, now's a great time to brush up on what to do (and what not to do) when the press comes knocking on your door.
We began planning our program two years ago. Since then we've had several sessions and a recent briefing to address concerns about financial stability, share insurance and an increase in robberies of all financial institutions. Our initial program brought together a cross-section of 20 senior managers from our organization for a half-day working session focused on crisis scenarios.
Part one began with an overview and open discussion about why PR is valuable to the organization, what makes a good TV, radio or print story, and how to take control of the media agenda.
Part two is where things got even more interesting. We invited a former TV reporter to host a session called, "In the hot seatinterview practice with a live journalist." We asked one of our audio/visual vendors to provide cameras, mikes and bright lights, plus a DVD monitor with instant playback capabilities.
Then we divided our senior managers into small groups and presented each with a mock crisis scenario. Each team was assigned a scenario based on their area of specialization (lending, loss prevention, HR, etc.) The teams then had 30 minutes to prepare talking points for an "interview" to be given on site by our reporter in nearly real-world conditions. One person from each team was randomly selected to be video taped and interviewed with blinding lights in their face and tough questions. After the interviews were conducted, we played the footage back for an expert tutorial on how improvements could be made (and what each person did right, too.) Since we were all friends and co-workers, it was a way to critique each other in a supportive and fun environment.
Examples of mock crisis scenarios were:
Facilities/loss prevention: A robbery has occurred at one of our branches with an unknown number of injuries.
Lending: Desert Schools FCU is incorrectly listed in the paper as the No. 1 financial institution for home foreclosures.
HR/quality: An employee was found to be embezzling funds from member accounts and an arrest has been made.
There are many other scenarios that you can customize. Ours were created to simulate very stressful conditions. In the wake of the financial crisis, we have also recently added additional formal structure around our PR procedures. Part of my job is to serve as the first point of contact for all media inquiries and conduct a majority of the interviews. For times when an alternative person or additional expertise is needed, we created a list of internal senior managers authorized to serve as subject matter experts for media interviews either by phone, e-mail or on camera (with coaching.)
We also established our own internal criteria for accepting or denying an interview. During these tough times, we are careful about appearing in the media as a lone source too often. When possible we want to be quoted with other sources or as part of a broader story. Reaching out to our local Arizona Credit Union League has helped us partner on interviews when necessary.
Every credit union is different, but we're all in this together. Part of what makes the credit union difference so strong is our industry's commitment to people helping people --- including each other. Start having some candid discussions about your PR planning. Create scenarios. Role play. Use a real camera. Seek expert advice in your market. So the next time a local reporter comes calling, you'll be running with confidence --and not for the door.
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