Crisis Communications Tip: Don’t Let Bubba Be Your De facto Spokesperson  

By Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC

You are going to learn about Bubba in today’s BraudCast video. But first, put yourself in this situation and then answer the questions below:

Imagine there is an explosion where you work. The community is rattled by the blast. The community can see black smoke billowing. Police, firefighters, and EMS are responding. Now answer these three questions:

1) How long will it be before eyewitnesses begin posting pictures, video, or comments about the incident to social media?

2) How long will it take before the media either arrive to report on your event or how long before the media begin to tell the story with social media accounts from eyewitnesses?

3) How long will it take before you are able to draft a news release, get it approved, and get it released?

Please post your answer below or Tweet it to me @gbraud

So who is Bubba and why should you care? Bubba was the guy who stood outside of his house trailer and told me, “It blow’d up real good,” when I was a TV reporter and asked him about an explosion at a nearby chemical plant. I then put Bubba on the news. You can get the fun, juicy version of the story by watching the video featured above.

By default, Bubba inadvertently became the company’s de facto spokesperson because the company was slow to issue a media statement to me as the television reporter covering this breaking news story.

Bubba was both a spokesperson’s worst nightmare, as well as one of my greatest inspirations for the 5 Steps to Effective Crisis Communications  system that I have followed for more than 20 years. To get the juicy version of the Bubba story, and to meet Bubba’s modern day social media counterparts, please watch the video. I promise you’ll love it and you’ll want to share the lesson with co-workers and colleagues.

With every passing minute that there is no official statement from your organization, the narrative of the story is controlled by eyewitness accounts, as well as by speculation from the media. You and the company you work for are unintentionally making eyewitnesses your de facto spokespeople if you fail to issue at least a very basic statement within one hour of the onset of the crisis. (You can get a free copy of a basic statement by registering for my free 5-part video series on the 5 Steps to Effective Crisis Communications here.)

As you watch the video, you will learn that Bubba set the narrative for my news report about the explosion and fire. His soundbite controlled the narrative of the news story because the paid spokesperson for the company failed to respond to my request for an interview. The public relations spokesperson had a chance to be on live reports at 10 a.m., 11 a.m. and noon. Bubba would have never had a chance to say, “It blow’d up real good,” nearly two and a half hours into this crisis, if an official spokesperson agreed to do an interview. I only interviewed Bubba because I needed a soundbite to complete the aesthetics for my noon news report.

Bubba was made the de facto spokesperson not by me, but technically by the company and its paid spokesperson, when the spokesperson elected not to give me an interview.

According to Step 2 of the 5 Steps to Effective Crisis Communications, a company’s crisis communications plan should dictate that a spokesperson and statement should be available to the media, employees, the community, and other stakeholders, within one hour of the onset of the crisis.

According to Step 3 of the 5 Steps to Effective Crisis Communications, a company spokesperson should be able to meet that deadline by using a fill-in-the-blank pre-written news release.

According to Step 4 of the 5 Steps to Effective Crisis Communications, a company spokesperson should have undergone sufficient media training, such that they can effectively deliver the pre-written news release to reporters, without fearing that the interview will go badly.

The takeaway: Don’t let Bubba be your de facto spokesperson.

Learn more about the 5 Steps to Effective Crisis Communications by watching our free 5-Part video tutorial. Register here.

Crisis communications and media training expert Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC is based in New Orleans. Organizations on five continents have relied on him to write their crisis communications plans and to train their spokespeople. He is the author of “Don’t Talk to the Media Until…”

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