Perfect example of why ignoring media training is not an option
A weak media appearance can, and often does, make a bad situation soooo much worse. Take the press conference held by the Gary Southern, president of West Virginia’s Freedom Industries, the company responsible for contaminating local water supplies to the point where 300,000 residents were unable to use anything coming from the pipes in their homes for much of January.
As you’ll see in the video below, it’s the very definition of “hot mess”, with Southern’s flustered delivery compounded by condescending instructions from someone off-camera as to where to stand, who to face, and how to conduct himself in general. Making things even more awkward was a moment at right around 5:00, where a reporter actually demands that Southern return to the microphone for more questions, a demand to which he, in a move that left our crisis management-oriented brains screaming NO!, acquiesces.
If the fact that Southern was sipping a lot of water stood out to you, just imagine how it felt to those 300,000 people whose water his company had contaminated? While grabbing for a water bottle is never good press conference behavior, in this case it was a move with unusually dire consequences in terms of reputation damage.
It only took eight days for Freedom Industries to file bankruptcy, allegedly due to the massive lawsuits it’s facing as a result of the spill, and it clearly won’t be recovering as an organization any time soon.
If you run ANY type of organization, you absolutely must be prepared to speak to the media. Sure you can get away with spokespeople when it comes to smaller troubles, but when the s#^@ hits the fan, the head honcho needs to step up to the microphone. Get ahold of a good media trainer, or even a friend, a camera, and some the multitude of tips listed on this blog and others, and start practicing now. After all, only practice makes perfect, and you’d better believe that’s what you need to be when you’re the face of an organization that’s royally screwed up.
For more resources, see the Free Management Library topic: Crisis Management
[Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., an international crisis management consultancy, author of Manager’s Guide to Crisis Management and Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training. Erik Bernstein is Social Media Manager for the firm, and also editor of its newsletter, Crisis Manager]