Mark Twain — Courtesy of

Before You Find Yourself in the Middle of a Media Firestorm

Take a Page from a Crisis Communications Handbook

We all could be media pundits today. With little effort, each of us could use our digital devices to share thoughts, video footage and real-time commentary, adding our voice to the public discussion on any number of wide-ranging issues.

There’s a danger though: by doing so, we run the risk of putting ourselves smack in the middle of a news cycle, providing grist for the media mill.

And the response might not be what we expected.

After all, our digital devices can send news and view around the world in nanoseconds: tablets can replace broadcast studios, blogs can replace opinion pages and cell phones can replace shoulder-mounted camcorders.

Our comments on public issues can have power and influence. While many take the form of posts on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter or home-spun video observations on Instagram, others reach the sophistication of Hollywood productions on YouTube.

Some of this, though, blurs the lines between news and opinion. Nothing quite matches today’s flurry of commentary and opinions shared by those who do know the facts and those who simply don’t.

This kind of media access certainly adds a punctuation point to the wisdom of Mark Twain and others: “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”

Remember though, when we enter the digital fray with our views, we are subject to questions from anyone, anywhere — our views may be publicly probed and argued. The reaction from others may be any combination of facts, emotions and just plain visceral.

Once in the public media mainstream, all of us are possible targets at one time or another, either as individuals for our beliefs and opinions or as representatives of companies and organizations.

If you’ve never faced that unexpected call, email or text from a researcher, investigative reporter or inquiring journalist — along with the ensuing onslaught of tough questions — you’re fortunate.

Probing questions can feel more like attacks and less like questions … for certain, you’ll feel you are in the middle of a crisis or a media firestorm at the least.

So, if you decide to play in the digital space and share your views, have a plan, simply because it is never if a media crisis will emerge but rather when.

Before you are thrust into the center of a media crisis, take a look at some typical corporate crisis communications plans and adapt them for yourself. Build your own checklist and make it part of your personal social media crisis planning.

Don’t be naïve. Do this before you put yourself in the middle of a media slug fest.

Here’s a starting point:

Crisis Response Checklist — Workable Toolkit

1. Your values –

· Reputation is precious — personal and professional

2. Your goal –

· Control what you can

· Minimize uncertainly

· Speak with assurance

· Balance the news coverage

3. Your tone and style –

· Calm and genuine

· Factual

· Thoughtful

· Straightforward

· Keep your cool

4. Remember that news moves at lightning speed –

· 24/7 world of instant digital communications

· Digital social media is powerful and influences traditional media

· Everyone has an opinion but fewer have knowledge

· No time to spare if you want to have your voice heard

5. Know your stuff –

· Know the facts

· Have a clear opinion

· Anticipate attacks/criticism/media probes and research

· Draft a Q&A

6. Build a plan –

· Identify steps

· Set up key email contact details

· Identify friends and allies

· Clarify talking points

· Ready social media materials

· Plan for communications with those who are important to you

· Consider worst-case scenarios

7. Speak with legal counsel — as needed

· Share points of view

· Review other points of view

8. Train and rehearse –

· Role play and practice tough questions and personal attacks

· Memorize top three key points

· Video tape yourself

· Hold critique session

9. Set up a log for inquiries –

· Deal with all inquiries first by getting contact details and questions posed

· Log every call/email, including question and response

· Review logs “post-mortem”

10. Above all, even though you have put yourself in the middle of a public issue with your social media postings, you still have the choice to respond or not –

· Not every inquiry needs be answered

· Accept that you cannot change the minds of everyone or those with an agenda


NOTE — Chris Komisarjevsky is a former professor at Boston University, teaching graduate students Crisis and Corporate Communications. He is a retired worldwide chief executive officer of the global public relations firm, Burson-Marsteller and the author of three books, one entitled “The Power of Reputation.”




Chris is a retired worldwide CEO of Burson-Marsteller and author of three books, most recently: “Ramen Noodle Resume” for new college graduates.

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Chris Komisarjevsky

Chris Komisarjevsky

Chris is a retired worldwide CEO of Burson-Marsteller and author of three books, most recently: “Ramen Noodle Resume” for new college graduates.

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