Dealing with Disaster in the Media

On April 22, 2010, The Deepwater Horizon exploded and collapsed in the Gulf of Mexico. What followed was more than an environmental disaster as BP’s public strategy exacerbated the disaster, added billions to its tab, cost the CEO his job and even jeopardised the oil giant’s survival. Then BP CEO Hayward worsened the situation by venting his frustration saying “We’re sorry for the massive disruption it’s caused to their lives” then sounding annoyed : “And you know, there’s no-one who wants this thing over more than I do. I’d like my life back!” The BP disaster led to a stock drop of 48% , wiping out $91 billion in market value. It also led to a global humiliation for the BP leader who led a BP delegation to the White House – portrayed as corporate capitulation. Concluding in BP establishing a $20 billion escrow fund to pay damages. The next day, Hayward faced a congressional sub-committee, where lawmakers took turns publicly berating him. And to top it all, he flew home for a break and a final PR disaster – being photographed in a yacht race off the Isle of Wight, sailing with his son – as White House Chief of Staff mockingly touted “He’s got his life back” But let’s take a deeper look at why BP was more than an environmental disaster. The previous CEO John Browne attended state dinners and cultivated the press, which dubbed him the “Sun King”. Hayward, by contrast, didn’t relish dealing with the media or excel at it – a shortcoming that would seal his fate. South African’s CEO’s need to foster positive relationships with the media – why? It can be highly profitable and especially when you need an ally. Journalists need to understand your business and CEO’s need to know how the media operates. So, understanding the media is the key to effective communication and reputation management. Let us not forget, that despite the current government’s attempts in gagging the media, the press is the only institution chartered in truly democratic constitutions and is driven by a mission to protect and serve the public interest. It is in the interests of all CEO’s to
  • Foster an understanding of what drives and motivates the media
  • To develop an understanding how the media operates
  • To raise awareness of how media relations can be used to support effective communication and enhance corporate reputation
CEO’s need to understand the risk assessment. Understanding of the production process, sources of information such as the newsroom, correspondents, public sources and the electronic media as well as understanding publishing criteria such as :
  • Newsworthy, compelling, relevant, topical, factual, objective and balanced and fair is crucial in building public profile and managing reputations is essential
How you communicate with the media is also crucial. In the print media, one would use the “inverted logic” formula where you begin with the headline to grab the reader’s attention and then move to the introduction that provides the reporter’s conclusion. The body should explain how the conclusion was reached. However, when being interviewed in the media, one would apply the reverse formula – “The Triangle” begin with a “Short, Special and Positive comment or impact statement, then expand the idea and bring in the negative and conclude by expanding the idea further and ending on a positive as indicated below :

But never forget that you will only ever get out of press relations what you are prepared to put in. Here are some golden rules :

  • Golden Rules
    • Do not expect to know the answer to every question
    • Never say “no comment”
    • Never repeat a negative statement
    • Never comment on rumours
    • Never go “off the record”
    • Never wing an answer to: Litigation, privacy, sensitivity, a misunderstanding or mistake
  • More golden rules
    • Understand the topic
    • Assess the risk
    • Project confidence and honesty
    • Prepare key messages
    • Learn to bridge or deflect
    • Deliver news value
    • Beware of “off camera”
    • Be patient reporters aren’t experts in your field

For more information on our Social Intelligence training contact My Pocket Coach on call us on (011) 781-1444