Responding to breaking news can be a successful tactic for positioning spokespeople as experts in their field. Monitoring the day’s breaking news is an important part of the daily PR agenda, which means that having processes and strategies in place for swift response, when needed, is vital. It can also help in relationship building if a spokesperson can become a trusted source of quick comment.
When news breaks, journalists are looking for experts that can explain the situation clearly, add value to the story and give insights on its wider implications and context. Think about the major cyber security stories that have broken recently, from the leak of the Panama Papers to the FBI / Apple encryption debate; clear, reasoned and informed comment from industry experts and commentators helps to build a fully rounded story on what can be complex and sensitive issues. So what are the key components for getting a rapid response process in place?
Availability of Spokespeople
The starting point is to have designated spokespeople in place, that can be ready to respond to news stories. If there are different experts that are better suited to commenting on specific types of stories, compile a list of these against their specialist areas with contact information to avoid rushing around trying to locate the best spokesperson when a news story breaks. Are they able to speak directly to a journalist if needed? If so, and it’s a rapidly developing news story, then prepare them with as much information by researching and gathering all the facts in hand.
Timing is all
The golden rule for rapid response to breaking news is worth underlining here. If a story breaks and a journalist requires quick comment on a story, then act promptly. Otherwise, they will have filed the story and moved on. Journalists need comment sent to them swiftly and certainly well in time for any stated deadlines.
If you’re submitting written comment, this is not the time for extensive analysis on the story. Most featured comment in a news story will be a couple of paragraphs at most. So keep is simple, crisp and concise. It’s also not the time for reiterating what everyone else has already said on a story. Think about what new insights can be offered; the journalist is looking for additional information, opinion or insights that will add value to the story rather than ‘vanilla’ statements which don’t. Consider also if you have any facts or supporting data from your organisation’s own reports that could be used to add value to the story.
Is it better to wait or not comment?
Take each story on its merits and consider the implications of weighing in on a particular issue. Understand and discuss with the PR team which types of stories you would be willing to comment on, and which you won’t. Consider the wider context, for instance, are there business objectives that need to be considered before offering comment on a specific story? Breaking news requires quick response, however it’s worth bearing in mind that some big stories will have a longer ‘life’ and can evolve as more facts come to light. In some cases it might be prudent to wait until more facts are known before offering comment.
Rapid response is a team effort that can pay dividends if it’s done well. PRs need to work closely with their clients and spokespeople to ensure that all sides have a good understanding of what’s involved and how to respond in the best way.