It may seem counter-intuitive, but never, ever consider speaking to a journalist before determining your role in their story. Are you the protagonist, antagonist, witness, hero?
At the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, I teach MBA students to consider the anatomy of a news story to strategically dissect the likely scenario and their role in advance of the interview.
Consider a news story like a Grimm’s Fairy Tale. Cinderella comes to mind. The narrative contains a damsel in distress, the victim, a wicked step mother, the villain and the fairy godmother, the heroine.
As a reporter having covered hundreds of news stories, my experience is that just like fairy tales, people being interviewed have preordained roles. It’s not necessarily premeditated by the journalist, but simply storytelling. Reporters, perhaps unwittingly, cast characters to fit into their narrative. They seek them out.
If you work for a corporation, you are typically the villain, especially during a crisis. Assuming so, consider this advice: no matter how hard you try you will never be vindicated during a catastrophe. Reporters won’t let you re-write the story. The best you can hope for is to control your message. Create a quote that puts you in the best possible light. Don’t ever try to dictate the story by attempting to play the roles of others. Simply concentrate on your character.
Be strategic by filling in predicable messages from other cast members. Outline a draft to better understand your role.
Ask yourself these questions:
- What message will the protagonist have?
- What quote will the antagonist provide?
- What will the supporting cast/witnesses say?
Based on your hypothesis, formulate your strategic response.
For example, imagine you are a CEO forced to react to a product recall or factory explosion. At LaFrankie Principato Consultancy, we advise clients to be genuine, display empathy, sincerity, accountability, cooperation in the ensuing investigation and continued focus on safety. Don’t avoid the spotlight and for heaven’s sake never try to scapegoat your way out by playing the victim. You will forever damage your credibility, reputation and brand.
Look at it this way; if nothing else a crisis is an opportunity to highlight your company’s character during a catastrophe. Face the music with integrity and accountability. Save the good news for a positive future story. Above all be realistic about you role in the “fairy tale.”
~ Susanne LaFrankie, M.A.