In this digital-saturated media age, innocent communication can be taken out of context and can damage your reputation. Technology is not your friend when it comes reputation management because our always-on world creates risk and potentially a whole lot of trouble. A big pitfall (and an easy one to fall into) is repeating the negative in a statement, interview, or other recorded conversation.
One of the sneakiest traps that people fall into when being interviewed or in a conversation is they Repeat the Negative. It goes something like this:
Reporter: Can you tell me how many people are under investigation and exactly how much money was stolen from the ABC123 fund that supports more than 500,000 women and children in the state?
You: We don’t know how much money was stolen and at this time we are not ruling anyone out. This will be a full departmental investigation so many people will be involved in the investigation. We will leave nothing to chance as this is our highest priority.
Nothing is false about your answer. But look at the underlined text. See how easy it is to repeat the negative? It’s a comfortable trap because you feel like you are addressing the question and being truthful. And you are. At Trifecta Public Strategies we advocate for truth and transparency. And while the response above shows both, because it repeats the negative content from the reporter’s question it sets you up to be featured as the lead news item for the 4:30 p.m., 5:00 p.m., 6:00 p.m., and 10:00 p.m. nightly news segments and again the next day on the early and mid-morning news saying only, “Money was stolen… many people will be involved in the investigation.”
So how does that happen? In a word….Editing.
The better approach is to say something like this: “We do not have all of the details at this time. But what I can tell you is this – we are fully cooperating with the police and we are committed to providing any information that will help resolve this issue. It is our intent to stay focused on the families that our organization and generous donors support.”
If that statement is edited, you have a greater chance of controlling the message and mitigating risk.
Here are a few tips to remember for interviews and media statements:
- Every statement you give the media is fair game.
- Don’t say a single word that you don’t want to hear replayed 100 times.
- Never underestimate how editing can turn well-intended comments into a mess.
- Simple, short, and factual answers are the best answers.
- Do not feel compelled to overstate the details or speak because cameras and microphones are pointed at you.
- Explain the facts that you know and deliver more facts as you know them. (no really…follow up with more facts. Stalling isn’t good for anyone.)
In the middle of any emotionally charged event — which is pretty much the definition of crisis — remember that it is EMOTIONAL. Stay true to the facts as they are happening and have plans in place throughout your organization for responding to such events. And then explain those facts in YOUR words rather than the negative words a reporter may be trying to put in your mouth.