Those dealing with the media should review the list of media relations reminders.

  • Assign a staff writer to draft a brief initial statement or list of details for use until a more detailed statement or story can be drafted. (News media will expect immediate communications)
  • Decide whether news conferences and/or news releases are appropriate means of conveying information to the news media and the public. The university’s chief public relations officer or the public relations officer for the area affected will decide procedures & logistics of the news conference – when, where how the media will be contacted, which media will be contacted, who will supervise the conference, who will appear, etc.
  • Determine whether the magnitude of the crisis merits establishing a media briefing center. Decide where briefing center should be, if additional phone lines may be needed and other details.
  • Decide the need to assign UF videographers and photographers to take pictures of the scene. (This could prove helpful in responding to media inquiries, to possibly resolve legal issues, as well as documenting events.)
  • Decide whether it is appropriate to allow location shooting by TV and newspaper photographers. Determine when, where and who will accompany the media.
  • Discuss the need to produce taped response for radio or whom to make available for radio soundbytes.
  • Identify any other individuals who may serve as spokespersons or who might be made available to the news media at the earliest time after a controversy or crisis has arisen. Assign a public information staff person to discuss with that individual the idea of making his/her side of the issue known to the media. Counsel individual in terms of appropriate ways to deal with the media.
  • Write a fact sheet and use as a guide to write a statement for the media or preparation for a wire story summarizing the situation. Written material is to be reviewed by the university’s vice president for public relations and/or the head public relations officer in the designated area of the crisis, and others as required.
  • After developing a proposed plan of action, with consideration to the elements detailed above, the public information officers should make sure the president or provost and/or the appropriate vice presidents or deans review material to be disseminated and have copies on hand.
  • At the earliest possible stage, advice communications staff members of the situation. Give administrative staff clear instructions in regard to handling telephone calls concerning the situation and alert them that they may be called upon to perform special clerical assignments. Specific assignments may be delegated to members of the communications staff (writing and reviewing copy, establishing other lines of communication, making phone calls, tracking office activities and other related events, fielding emergency-related information such as blood mobile location, etc.)
  • Discuss alternative or additional means of conveying information. This might include such items as letters to parents of students or selected other constituencies of the university, letters to newspaper editors, consultation with editorial boards or other activity. Other means of communication which may need to be considered include making phone banks available and using ham radios in an emergency.
  • Scan daily newspaper and video reports for stories related to the situation. If necessary, arrange for videotaping of any TV coverage.
  • Set up information files on the crisis at hand. Material related to the crisis, including clippings, statements, letters, memos and any other documents should be filed in chronological order.
  • Plan to frequently update staff and appropriate administrators on status of crisis.
  • Have a follow-up assessment and meeting to determine what worked, what did not work, and what changes might be made in the future for improved crisis management. If a crisis team has been called together, that total crisis team should meet after the event has been handled to review and discuss timing and effect of communications. Determine what specific changes should be made to this plan. Look to recognizing those who contributed to the emergency communications/crisis resolution effort.

Before the Crisis

Standard Operating Procedures

  • Have close working relationship with key university staff people – president, vice presidents, deans, campus police, student leaders. Ideal, if chief media relations person can report directly to the president. Crisis is no time to get to know people.
  • Have close working relationships with key public relations professionals in community and community leaders.
  • Keep and up-to-date media list on computer. (Office and home numbers, if possible, of key media.)
  • Have a written crisis plan that details:
    • Who decides what information is released.
    • Who speaks for the institution/releases material to media.
    • Who, inside and outside the institution, must be notified in a crisis.
    • What role media relations staff will play.
    • Composition of crisis teams that can be called together depending on nature of crisis.
    • Phone numbers and addresses of key people, including top administrators, crisis teams, media relations staff.
    • Logistical details.
  • Locations where press conferences/media availabilities can be held (sizes of rooms, who to call to reserve.) Phone lines – You may need more in your office. Where are phones media can use to call in?
  • Equipment/Space – Keep and inventory of what equipment and space you have, where cameras can be plugged in, where lap-tops can be plugged into phones, where computers can be used.
  • Details on hotels/motels which are closest, best, cheapest.
  • Parking – Where can media park? Set aside parking areas. Work with police. Designate a satellite truck parking area.
  • Determine what staff support is available – clerical, technical back-up people, as well as those who deal directly with media.

During the Crisis

Media Relations

  • Always return media calls, even if they call more than once and even if they are hostile. “Bunker mentality” won’t make the problem or the media go away. The more cooperative you appear, the better.
  • Really communicate with media reps when you are talking with them: that means both talking and listening. During crisis time, if you’re friendly and don’t rush them, they appreciate it. Also, through conversation, the media can provide you with information that is useful.
  • Avoid antagonizing the media reps, if possible. A sharp tone at a press conference, during a phone call or elsewhere can affect your future relationship with an individual and with any other media reps who may hear the conversation.
  • Consider establishing a dedicated call-in phone line that will offer information to media or other who phone in. (Info on news conference, rumor control info, newly acquired information can be place on a tape that can be update. Particularly useful when your regular phone lines are tied up with calls.)
  • Consider how information you release to media may affect others. If things you say will result in media calling other agencies or individuals, you need to call them fist to warn of impending calls.
  • When talking to media, be sure to give credit to other agencies, groups or individuals working on the crisis, including your own staff. (First, because it’s courteous and the right thing to do, but it also enhances relationships and reflects well on you.)
  • Try to be proactive with new information. Even though things may be frantic, if you acquire new information regarding the crisis, reach out the media. Everybody’s looking for a twist on the story that no one else has. If you can provide some media with a special angle, it can pay off later.

News Conferences/Availabilities

  • When you notify media of news conferences/availabilities, be sure to define what kind of event you are actually having. Usually, if you announce a news conference, media expect you to announce something. A press availability can simply mean you are making individuals available to answer questions from the media.
  • Don’t call unnecessary news conferences/availabilities. If it’s not worth their while, the media will only be angered.
  • If holding a news conference, try to tell media in advance some details of what you will be announcing. Being coy will not only irritate the media, but may prevent them from participating in your event.
  • Gauge the size of your crowd carefully when reserving a room: better to have too much that too little space. Make sure microphones, chairs, lighting and water are in place at least 30 minutes before an event.
  • Decide format in advance. Who will introduce speakers, who decides when question/answer period ends and other details.
  • Decide in advance whether or not handouts are needed. If speaker is giving a written talk, may want to wait and hand out material after the talk, so media will stay and listen. However, it’s advisable to tell them you will give them a copy later, so they aren’t irritated by having to take unnecessary notes.
  • Check to see what else is happening on campus, in the community. Don’t lose effectiveness through time conflicts with other events.
  • Consider whether you need to let other organizations and agencies know you are having a news conference. (You may wish to invite others to attend or participate in your event)
  • Decide who will maintain control at the news conference. Someone may need to be the arbiter as to where camera tripods are set up, w ho sits where and other details.
  • Try to plan length of news conference/availability, but be flexible. Don’t end it when there are still a dozen hands raised for questions.
  • Consider the time of the news conference. If you want to make the noon, 6 pm or 11 pm news, you need to allow time for crews to travel and edit tape. Remember the time scheduled for a news conference can also send a signal to the media, sometimes right sometimes wrong.
  • If you have a satellite uplink or other equipment, be sure to let media know in advance.
  • You may want to pre-plan still photo opportunities.
  • If you are going to set restriction on an event, try to put these in writing and communicate it to media representatives at least 24 hours in advance.

Personal Considerations

  • In any crisis, try to find out as much information as you can. Even if you are not going to communicate that information, it’s probably better to know as much as possible. That way, you avoid inadvertently saying the wrong thing or sending unintended messages.
  • Consider the parameters of your crisis and try to conduct yourself accordingly when dealing with the media and others. Maintaining a sense of humor is important, but inappropriate humor can work against you. Professional dignity is important, especially in unpleasant times.
  • As the crisis progresses, jot notes for review later. The notes can help you remember things during the crisis and may be useful for later review.
  • If you or others are on camera, always dress professionally. This may seem like form over substance, but casual or mussed clothing can send signals to viewers that things are out of control.
  • More common sense – try to give yourself some down time and sleep time during the crisis. Overwork and no sleep can lead to misstatements, irritability and loss of friends.
  • When the worst of the crisis is over, send notes of appreciation got those who have been of service, outside and inside the institution, and including your own staff.
  • Apologize to the folks whose correspondence, projects and other work you have put off as a result of the crisis; then catch up on that work. Consolation is, much of that work will have taken care of itself.