Making the Best of Negative News: Do’s and Don’ts for Crisis Coverage

Credit breaches, employee misconduct, 990 filings and even failure—all these are issues credit unions deal with on occasion, and when they surface, there is a chance a reporter will be calling.

If you respond to the crisis appropriately, you will minimize damage to your credit union and likely will earn the respect of the reporter you’re responding to.

“If the media call you and you won’t comment, you are not going to like the way your business appears in that story,” said Jeff Crilley, a national award winning television reporter who now owns a public relations business.  Crilley recently addressed the Marketers’ Conference sponsored by the Northwest Credit Union Association (NWCUA).

The best way to ensure that coverage of a negative story is short-lived, Crilley suggests, is to respond quickly with enough information that there won’t be any reason for reporters to follow up the next day.

Crilley’s Dallas based firm, Real News Public Relations, helps clients navigate the media while positioning others as go-to experts who often earn free publicity that Crilley says is “seven times more believable” than expensive commercials.

Favorable coverage is what all public relations experts aim for, but when negative news surfaces, we cannot hide from it.

Crilley walked attendees of the Marketers’ Conference through a scenario that could be a public relations “nightmare” or a well handled event that ends up reflecting well on a credit union, depending on the response.

Imagine this:  misconduct or illegal behavior by an employee who cleared a pre-employment background check.

“We need to comment,” he advises, suggesting that marketers remind their management and legal staff of the brand damage that could be done if a negative story is not addressed.

He suggests granting an interview, owning the situation, reminding the reporter and hence the public of your good reputation and sharing what is being done to prevent the scenario from repeating itself.

If members have been inconvenienced or if their accounts have been compromised, then of course an apology followed by reassurance that the funds are safe and insured is important, he says. Information about actions the credit union is taking to assist members is the first message to convey.  Even without any direct impact on members, some negative issues may need to be addressed.

An example of a heartfelt response that Crilley suggests will safeguard a brand while earning public respect might be, “We’re devastated this happened.  As soon as we learned of this, we alerted authorities and are cooperating.  We do conduct employee background checks and we are reviewing our procedures to see what we can do better.”

If regulatory action has been taken against, a credit union will need to coordinate with the agency involved prior to addressing media inquiries.  The agency may not allow the institution to be the spokesperson in such cases.

The public relations staff at the NWCUA can provide talking points or consultation to all member credit unions as requested.

The key to any “media situation” is to view it not as adversarial, but an opportunity to get the truth to the people who need it the most. Being disingenuous will always lead to more and deeper troubles, so being honest and as forthright as possible is paramount for not only the protection of your institution, but your own personal credibility. And remember to never, ever say no comment because when someone else is approached to tell your story, it will almost never be correct and could lead to permanent brand damage.


Questions or Concerns? Contact Matt Halvorson, Anthem Editor:

Posted in Events, NWCUA.