Whether or not you have a PR firm, there may come a time when you need to deal with the media. We have all seen the extremes: the clip or quote that draws admiration and is shared around the web, and the one that requires emergency PR tactics to reduce the damage. If a reporter calls you, you could retreat to a ‘no comment’ position.

Unfortunately for you, most people take that as a sign of being guilty but not wanting to admit it until you talk to a lawyer. On the other hand, saying the wrong thing could be tantamount to a PR disaster.

That is why it is crucial to yourself and your brand; that you have actionable tips and methods of dealing with the media. These come into play – when you do not have time to prepare your statements or responses, and simply have to give answers.

How to deal with the media

So here are four tips to make dealing with the media a little easier and safer.

Keep Calm and Carry On

This is the first rule for handling any media or press situation. Unfortunately, some individuals may try to bait you by making comments that are intended to make you angry. Losing your temper will make you appear immature or even incapable. Always remember that anything said to the media will almost certainly be made public.

“Off the record” is simply a matter of trust between a journalist and their source. They may keep the source private because they want to maintain their reputation and keep open access to information in the future. In most cases, however, there is no legal weight behind it. Always assume anything you say will be a matter of public record.

Don’t panic. You know your business and you know your facts. Be courteous and polite and listen to exactly what the reporter is asking. Avoid joking…it is too easy for it to backfire later, especially when what you say may be repeated out of context. Don’t lose your temper or say anything too controversial, even though the reporter might try to lead you down that path. You don’t want to be the next morning’s headline.

It’s Public

Anything and everything you say can go public. It doesn’t matter if you ask for it to be off the record and the reporter agrees. Those verbal agreements have no legal legs. If you don’t want the whole world to hear it, don’t say it.

Use Social Media During a Crisis

Social media provides the venue for you to communicate directly with the public. Whether it’s through a website, twitter, or another form of social media customers want to know that you’re promptly addressing any problems that may arise. Social media is a way to get your side of things out to the public quickly and accurately without having the information deciphered through the press. Using social media correctly can make or break a company or an individual.

Business reputation and credibility is extremely important, and sadly, it can be destroyed very quickly. Especially in the age of the internet. Your company’s social media presence ensures that you’re taking part in the age of transparency and direct dialogue. That means when a brand crisis arises, you have a direct opportunity to communicate with your customer base and minimize the damage. In the first hour, you should already be making sure you are using this venue to the fullest.

Respond Quickly but Correctly

It might seem wise to wait on a situation until you fully understand what’s going on, especially if the crisis has to do with your suppliers, credit card companies, or some other third party. But customers who are waiting for answers will grow more distrustful of your brand the longer they have to wait. Craft a calm, compassionate, and honest response and post it. That way, customers will immediately know that you’re handling things.

Respond to Criticism

Whether it means designating a crisis management team or just making sure someone is available to monitor social media continually, your business should be available to address customer concerns in a friendly and prompt manner. Don’t get upset or engage in disputes with posters ever. Even when the criticism is unfounded, you have to remember that your reputation is on the line. A little bit of “the customer’s always right” thinking will go a long way.

Maximize Transparency

Even if the crisis was genuinely a result of your company’s own negligence or mistakes, just be honest about it. It’s much better to let your customers know the truth directly from you instead of from another outlet – that’s what social media is for. Don’t try and cover anything up. Don’t delete posts that are overly critical, and don’t shy away from responsibility. Customers know that even the most trusted brands mess up sometimes. If you’re not hiding anything, they will learn to get past it.

Trying to hide or cover-up information that’s already leaked to the public almost always backfires. It’s always better if the public hears about any problems directly from you instead of through a third party. Most problems will be forgiven and forgotten quickly as long as they are dealt with promptly and up front. When answering tough questions it’s usually best to keep answers simple and to the point. Too much elaboration could possibly take the questioning in a completely new direction that you’re not prepared for.

It is important to remember that social media is a valuable tool for communicating with customers, and that it can actually be the best way to ensure your company survives any crisis that may arise. Use it smartly, and you can show that there are real people behind your brand who care about inspiring trust. You might never earn it from everyone, but the click of a mouse can give you a head start.

Interview the Reporter

Don’t think the reporter is the only one who can ask the questions. Find out as much as you can about the issue the reporter is contacting you about. Don’t get into discussing the case immediately. Give the reporter a chance to ask all the questions he wants. Have him ask them all at once if possible.

Once you know what the reporter is ostensibly looking for, give whatever answers you feel comfortable supplying, but remember that you don’t have to answer each question right away. There is no problem with telling the media person that you want a day or so to get the complete facts and investigate the situation yourself.

Take that gap of time to do exactly what you said you would. If the question is about a customer complaint, you may even be able to solve it before you speak to the reporter again. Certainly making the issue into a non-story is an excellent way to ensure it doesn’t turn into negative press.

Dealing with the press does not have to be a negative event. With a little skill and savvy, you can turn an interview with an intrepid reporter into a PR coup. Following these few steps will go a long way when attempting to successfully handle the press. Finally, no matter what type of business or profession you’re involved in it’s a good idea to prepare ahead in case you’re ever approached by the press.