From time to time your board may receive requests to speak to the media about things happening in or around your community. While we encourage boards to work with their professional management company and their qualified legal counsel during any media crisis, here are some best practices to help your community prepare for media inquiries.
1. Develop a robust media plan.
Don’t wait for that first call from a reporter to do your prep work. Boards should be proactive and develop a crisis communication plan before a situation occurs. Have a clear action plan that includes who needs to be contacted when a request occurs, and the steps your board should take after a request has been made. Once you have a clear plan and policy in place, make sure that each board member knows and understands the importance of following it. Some critical questions to ask when creating your media plan include:
- Who will be responsible for developing the message?
- Who will be tasked with delivering the message?
- Who needs to approve the final message?
- Does your legal counsel or anyone else need to sign-off before giving a statement or interview?
2. Make your assignments and prepare ahead of time.
One crucial aspect of your media plan should be identifying who is authorized to speak to reporters on the board’s behalf. It’s better to have one individual that will be the contact person for media requests. Sticking to one person helps streamline the process and keeps your board’s message consistent, especially if talking with multiple reporters or media outlets. This person should be well spoken, be able to follow the pre-determined communications plan, and may even want to undergo media training to prepare for future interviews.
3. Identify the reporter and ask questions before you talk.
Before agreeing to an interview, you should get more details on the reporter, the story, and the media outlet. Be sure to write these details down in case you need to refer to them later, and don’t be afraid to ask them any other clarifying questions. While reporters won’t always allow you to review their final story, it doesn’t hurt to ask. Before doing an interview always ask about:
- The reporter’s name and information
- Media outlet’s name
- What the story is about
- The story’s deadline
4. Decide what to say and how to say it.
With each request, you’ll need to decide what kind of response is appropriate. Know when to respond and when to provide a non-statement. For example, during ongoing litigation, we would recommend issuing a basic statement like, “We do not comment during ongoing litigation.” However, never say “No comment.” Not responding or refusing to comment can be interpreted negatively.
Know the risks of doing a live interview. If you choose to speak to the reporter for a live interview that is ok, however, you may want first to consider providing a written statement. Using written statements will allow you to control the message better and will prevent emotions from taking over or other mistakes from being made. During a live interview, a reporter can ask you any questions they want, and you may not be prepared to answer.
Remember, if you do talk, nothing is off the record. It’s best to proceed with caution and carefully plan out your message. Try to develop three key messages that are strong and reflect your community. Don’t let the reporter lead you and do your best to always circle back to your three key messages during an interview.
5. Ask for help when you need it.
Use all the tools at your disposal to provide the best response possible for your board and community. Most management companies have media relations’ experts that are well-trained and available to help you through any media issue. Don’t be afraid to reach out to them and ask for help at any point during the process. They can help you develop your media plan, provide media training, and make sure your responses are appropriate, especially during a crisis.