Beware your security guard becoming your company’s crisis media spokesperson

August 1, 2012 by Monika Bogdanowicz

Any firm of a significant size and reputation can suffer serious damage as a result of a crisis – environmental incident, operational disaster, business integrity allegations or contagious disease are just a few examples. When the news is fresh and information scarce it is the journalist’s role to dig out more – and they will do whatever it takes to track the juicy details down in the quickest way possible. They will, of course, try to reach business leaders and their PR team, but they can also choose to probe the least prepared ones – reception and security personnel, especially if the response from official channels is “no comment”. Without crisis communication training, frontline staff can volunteer too much information thus putting a dent in a company’s reputation and de-railing even the best drawn crisis plan.

Front-line media training is therefore an essential part of crisis communication planning. Participants’ performances can often represent a wide range of approaches and attitudes – with each posing a threat of its own. Let’s call our trainees Tom, John and Peter and see how they deal with a journalist poking around.

1)       Tom – a friendly, jovial and helpful security guard. In his interview Tom is very chatty with the journalist – he happily answers all the questions, giving so much detail and flavour to the story that the journalist can now go and write an extensive article undermining the company’s reputation without ever needing to speak to an official source.

2)       John – the polar opposite of Tom – reserved and uncommunicative. His chosen approach is to stonewall the journalist and to refuse to answer any questions. The risk of such an attitude is that the journalist cannot reach the communications team and is forced to turn to other unreliable – or even malicious – sources of information.

3)       Peter – having had some previous media encounters, he knows that he shouldn’t say much.  However, his unwavering refusal to comment comes across as uncooperative, defensive and hostile. Such an attitude aggravates the journalist and makes her even more determined to give the company a tough time.

None of the three approaches is advisable – but unfortunately they are common. To avoid negative consequences front-liners should follow three rules:

  • Act professionally – be calm, polite and helpful, but not too helpful.
  • Avoid speculation – stick to the brief they’ve been given or the company’s existing media handling policy.
  • Gain control – alert the corporate communications team immediately so that they can respond in the appropriate manner.

The position of receptionists, security guards and switchboard operators in the front-line means they can unwittingly compromise their employer’s reputation. It is therefore essential that companies invest in media training as part of their crisis management training so that front-line staff can be their best advocates rather than reputation-busters.

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