In my last blog, ‘Media Interviews: Whatever you do, don’t do this’, we saw some of the most embarrassing media interviews around and learned from their failings. This month, in the name of fairness, we look at some highly-regarded interviews given during times of crisis. Below are some examples of when CEOs faced the press successfully during a crisis, with analysis and advice on how you should follow in their footsteps with solid crisis communications.
Director, Corporate & Commercial Operations at RBS, Susan Allen, on Natwest disruption
- Think about your audience – Susan Allen is clear on the audience she is communicating with; it’s not the reporter, it’s the Natwest customers that have been experiencing difficulties following a disruption causing by computer failures. She is using the opportunity to communicate with customers, providing them with clear guidance and an update on the current situation.
- Provide solutions – The interview is informative and direct. Whilst acknowledging the problems that are raised by the reporter, Allen provides solutions and useful guidance for Natwest customers. This is what you should aim for – if you’re asked about a problem, provide a solution.
- Nice bridge! – Whilst Allen has clearly prepared for the interview and considered the type of questions that she may be asked, you can’t always predict every question. You may be asked to comment on something that draws you into speculation or away from your key message. This is when the good old ‘bridging’ technique comes into play. A very good example can be seen in this clip when Allen is asked whether she can confirm whether this problem will ever happen again and she replies “It’s very difficult to say for certain, but what I will say is that everybody is focused on getting this right”. This is a very good skill to learn because saying something like “I can’t say that” or “I don’t know” will undermine your credibility.
JetBlue Airways CEO, David Neeleman
- Take control – During an incident, those affected want to be able to look at the person in charge and feel comfortable that they are in control of the situation and trust their judgment. David Neeleman does this very well in this clip. He is very clear on where the faults lie, what the company will be doing about it and how they will ensure that a disruption on this nature will never happen again (he also manages to get some very neat sound bites in there in the process, such as “we will be better than every other airline”). He appears calm, collected and decisive, particularly when asked if anyone will be losing their job over the incident, with which he replies with a firm “No”.
- Take accountability – Human instinct makes people defensive when under pressure, particularly if their conduct is being called into question. Therefore, taking accountability for a problem can take the audience off guard and generate respect. Neeleman does this when he says that the “accountability rests with the CEO”; Neeleman has taken ownership of the incident and will endeavor to resolve the problems for the sake of his own credibility, and he appears sincere.
- Saying “sorry” can go a long way – Even if people disagree with your viewpoint or have been heavily impacted by the incident, saying sorry can generate respect and the effort will be appreciated (as long as it is genuine). An excellent example of this is shown in the video apology from the airline “Our Promise To You”, again from the JetBlue CEO. The message is clear and direct: we are sorry and we will fix this.
CEO of Virgin Group, Sir Richard Branson, on Virgin Train Derailment
You can’t really talk about good crisis communications and handling of the media without referring to Richard Branson. This clip relates to the derailment of a Virgin train in Cumbria in 2007. Whilst it isn’t a media interview as such, it highlights a couple of vital tips for crisis communicators:
- Face the media – When an incident occurs, you must handle it efficiently and pragmatically and, in doing so, you must face the media. Use the media to convey your concern and communicate, communicate, communicate. Branson is clearly genuinely shaken by the incident and his effort to get to the scene of the crash, breaking short a family holiday, gained him and the organisation a lot of kudos as a result of their immediate response.
- Learn from the past – Virgin has since stated that their response to the incident was based upon that of Sir Michael Bishop’s response to the 1989 Kegworth air disaster when a British Midland plane crashed near the M1 in Leicestershire. Bishop went straight to the scene, giving radio interviews en route, immediately placing himself in front of the media. He stated that if British Midland were at fault they would take full responsibility, but in the meantime the immediate impacts must be dealt with in a considered and efficient manner. And this is what Branson did. Virgin learned from Bishop’s approach and used the tactics to benefit from an immediate and effective response.