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I was among the millions who watched Big Brown gallop to victory in the Kentucky Derby this weekend. My celebratory mood was quickly changed to shock, horror and sadness as I learned that second place finisher, Eight Belles, had suffered a life ending injury (sidebar: my heart really sank because as an almost-lifelong equestrian and horse owner, I have experienced first hand the tragic loss of a horse due to a freak accident. My heart goes out to all who were associated with Eight Belles).

If you’ve never had the opportunity to be face to face with these magnificent animals, it is hard for me to describe what it is like to be in their presence. Whether you are a horse lover or not, they are awe inspiring, frighteningly powerful and strong. And, sadly, incredibly fragile.

The tragedy that occurred on the track at Churchill Downs has resurrected the debate as to whether horse racing is inherently cruel, driven by greed or whether more safety measures can be adopted to avoid future tragedies. There are some highly charged emotions surrounding this issue. The industry is indeed facing a PR crisis, and will have some tough questions to answer.

In your own worklife, you may unfortunately find yourself facing a PR crisis. Our own Karen Post has some guidelines for how to manage through. She writes:

Bad publicity can devastate a company’s or industry’s public image. The entity should make every effort to handle potentially negative public relations situations with extreme care. When a crisis occurs, the media can be the first on the scene. There are four basic rules to remember:

1) Be accessible.
2) Be accurate.
3) Take responsibility for what you are accountable for – nothing more.
4) Inform personnel about what is going on and remind them of who is authorized to speak on behalf of the company and what their responsibilities are.

Before you make yourself accessible, take adequate time to check the facts, organize the information, and confirm (and get approval for) what you plan to release. If you don’t have time to prepare a news release, make a list of things that will be said in order to be consistent. Stick to the facts, and be sure they are accurate. Resist the temptation to enhance or ad-lib. Update the information as more details are available. Again, do it accurately and make sure all the media who were present get the same information and are updated if necessary.

If accurate information is not available at the time you talk with the media, explain what you do know and what has to be verified. If people are injured and relatives have to be notified, state this – the media understand this confidentiality.

The following sequence outline will help in an emergency situation:
1. Tell the bad news first.
2. Explain what is confidential and why it can’t be released.
3. Tell what is factual at the present time.
4. Update frequently, if possible on a pre-determined schedule.
5. Monitor the media and compliment and/or correct any information.

A final point to remember in minimizing negative news – control the information you provide. Make sure it is accurate and easy to understand, and be accountable.

3 Keys to Media management success during a crisis

1. Be prepared
*Write down your points
*Know what you want to cover
*Do a dry run with an associate

2. Maintain Control
*This is not a passive situation
*State your message

3. Bridge out of uncomfortable topics/manage their attacks
*Change the subject

21 Tips to manage a reporter’s visit and interview.
1)… In advance of the interview, ask the reporter what he is looking for.
2)… Welcome the reporter.
3)… Be prepared. (It is acceptable to have a list of points to cover.)
4)… Be confident and helpful.
5)… State the most important first.
6)… Be concise. Use simple words.
7)… Avoid technical terms or acronyms.
8)… Never repeat negatives. (Remember the Nixon headline, “I’m not a crook.”)
9)… Emphasize the positives.
10)… Use a commercial without going overboard; view your interview as a commercial for your issue or position (sound authoritative, knowledgeable, and sincere).
11)… Use examples, anecdotes.
12)… Personal commitment. No personal opinion.
13)… NO “off the record” EVER. (As soon as you say that, the reporter starts reporting.)
14)… “I don’t know. . .I’ll find out for you.” Follow up on your promises.
15)… Always thank a reporter for good coverage. Thank-you notes go a long way.
16)… Blind source. (You can always allude to a reliable source without naming the individual.)
17)… Don’t speculate.
18)… Public’s best interest. (Remember that the media serves the public – always try to address their concerns and focus on their best interests.)
19)… Never lose your temper.
20)… Always tell the truth.
21)… Good media relationships are worth gold. Take good care of them.