Brand under fire: Why CEO’s need to front up in a crisis


Knowing how to speak to media during a brand crisis is an essential skill for CEOs. Impact PR director Fleur Revell explains to Management Magazine why it’s so important, and gives some tips on how to prepare.

While all of us like to hope there won’t be a time when our business faces a crisis situation in terms of our brand reputation, these circumstances do arise – and with them often comes the attention of the media.

Most people are daunted by the prospect of media interviews, and even more so if the requests for interviews come at a time when there is the possibility of damage to the company brand or reputation in the public eye.

Many businesses don’t have a crisis plan for how to proceed in times like these, which often means CEOs and senior managers are at a loss for what to do when they get a phonecall from a journalist asking for comment or they are required to front a press conference.

I’ve met many managers whose only plan is simply to say ‘no comment’ if called on for an interview – but that can create an impression of having something to hide, or not being willing to accept responsibility.

There are not many situations where refusing to comment is a good idea. If you can’t speak honestly then there may be cause to do so, but it is almost always better to front up and provide what answers you can.

The key to handling media well at this time is to have a plan which identifies potential crises or media opportunities, clearly outlines who in the company will respond to reporters’ queries, and for that person (or people) to be trained in how best to approach interviews.

Creating a thorough plan and preparing yourself, or your staff, is the best way you can safeguard your company. Everyone can think of a time that a business has faced a challenging situation and the subsequent interviews with the CEO or a representative have only made it worse. Equally though, there are many times that a crisis has been swiftly resolved by good use of media exposure and even helped to enhance a company’s reputation.

When it comes to who should deal with the media CEOs and senior managers should be the first contact, particularly if there is a negative issue in play. It’s incredibly important that it looks like a company is taking a crisis situation seriously and the best way to do that is to have the CEO or highest-ranking local executive represent the business in every interview.

Not only does it demonstrate that your business places real importance on the issues, but the CEO is the one who has the highest authority in the public eye, and therefore the only one who can make a believable promise about how to resolve the situation or a genuine apology on behalf of the company.

No matter who is nominated to deal with media, it’s essential they are trained to understand how to make the best impression on the interviewer and also the viewers, listeners or readers. At the most basic level, an interview is about getting your message across clearly and concisely in a way that will benefit your company and also give the journalist what they need.

Media interview

However, factors such as the way you speak, how you present yourself, and the amount of prep you do are all important considerations before you get to actually doing the interview, which is why it’s important to be prepared and ready for any eventuality.

For television and radio interviews, you need to speak clearly, not too quickly, and with authority. However, for radio it’s also important you sound likable and friendly, so smile as you speak. Even though no one can see you, they can hear it in your voice.

No matter what the topic, honesty is key and your passion for your business should shine through. It’s important not to get bogged down in prepared statements and over-worked sound-bites, although practicing how to reply to tricky questions can be very helpful in order to feel calm and assured throughout the interview.

Reporters are far more likely to respond well to someone who genuinely cares about their product or service, and is being honest, than someone with all the ‘right’ answers.

Don’t try to cram too many messages into one interview. Decide on the two or three most important things that need to be conveyed or addressed, and ensure they are communicated as clearly as possible without using too much jargon or trying to ‘sell’ your company to the journalist in every sentence.

Journalists are almost always in a hurry, and want to get interviews done quickly, so you need to make sure you get your message across right from the beginning in case the interview ends before you expect it to.

Deciding on your key messages beforehand also helps you remain focused and on track, rather than waffling and going off on tangents, which is a surefire way to turn off a journalist’s attention or look like you are trying to deflect from the matter at hand.

With the right planning, preparation and a calm attitude, it’s possible to put the best representation for your company in the public eye and even use the exposure to create a better impression of your business. CEOs and managers should approach a media interview as the most important thing they will do that day, so it only makes sense to be ready for it as best you can.

Fleur Revell

Fleur Revell

Director at Impact PR
Fleur Revell is one of the country’s most eminent PR consultants and public relations practitioners with more than 20 years industry experience behind her. Fleur is also a three times Qantas Media Awards winner and Feature Writer of the Year; and has an exceptional working knowledge of the New Zealand media landscape and its accelerating evolution in the digital age.