Don’t Allow the Media to Eat You Alive

Jun 12, 2014 | Articles

Every Safety Director that I know lives in dread of a school bus accident. The thought of one of their trucks getting tangled up with a school bus is a nightmare, regardless of which driver is “at fault.”

Every employee of your company, from the CEO to each of your drivers, is a compassionate human being. No one wants to see a child hurt. Worrying about a school bus accident can make you, a dedicated and professional Safety Director, an unhealthy insomniac. In order to get some sleep (after reviewing your truck driver hiring practices), you should develop your own company’s media plan.

You say that you are too small of a company to have a fancy “media plan”? Hopefully, you will never need such a media plan. But, if a noteworthy crash happens on your watch, you (as the Safety Director) will likely get pushed into the media spotlight. Being prepared and being empathic might determine if you retain your job after a noteworthy accident.

A media plan does not have to be complicated or outsourced to a high-priced media consultant. Simplicity is the key for you to remember your plan and then to implement it. A media plan has one purpose with five distinct components.

Purpose: The purpose of your media plan is to professionally identify your company as a safe and committed group of people. The media must tell a compelling story very quickly. All media – television, radio, newspaper and internet news – works off of the same newspaper article structure:
Who, What, When, Where and How.

The 5 components of your plan

Who #1 – Talk with your CEO and all department managers about your plan. Make certain that they all know the identity of your media representative. Typically, the CEO or the Safety Director is the natural choice for this important responsibility. Make certain the other company employees know that they should NOT interact with the media and that they should direct the media to you.

Who #2 – When first talking to the media, identify your company without giving the name of your involved driver. Your driver should be protected, at least initially. Have information on company’s history and safety record ready to impart.

What – Provide the basic details of the facts of the loss without inflammatory language. Know the type of accident it was (i.e. rear-end, overturn, t-bone) and exactly how many vehicles were involved. Do NOT speculate on the number of people injured or killed.

When – Much like the component of “what”, the “when” involves more details of the accident facts including at what time the accident occurred.

Where – Details of exactly where the accident occurred and possibly the name of any hospitals where the accident participants were transferred.

How – Do NOT guess or speculate as to the cause of the accident. Resist the temptation to tell everything you know. You can honestly answer questions without divulging the preliminary contributors to a crash until a full investigation is completed. You should be prepared to say: “We are not prepared to comment on the cause of this accident. We are working directly and actively with law enforcement officials to do a full investigation. It would be irresponsible for us to comment on the cause of the accident until all factors are fully investigated. We are aware that in many serious accident situations, in many cases the first reports prove to be inaccurate.”

Write it and follow your outline. Prepare a written outline with the basics of your company’s data. You are less likely to be misquoted if your statement is in writing. Avoid using industry slang or trucking buzz-words, as the general public does not understand trucking terms or trucking operations. Before meeting the media, practice what you want to say with a trusted staff member.

The basis of your initial statement should be a sincere care and concern for the accident participants and their families. You could refine this basic outline of your media statement: “The employees of ABC Trucking are shocked and saddened by this tragic accident. We offer our thoughts and prayers to all the accident participants and their families. We are diligently investigating all the facts of this accident. Additional details should be available shortly.”

Remember, you do not have to answer every media question in order to prove that you are a professional. I recommend that you tell your media contact that you have a statement, but do not have answers to all of his/her pending questions. Don’t say “no comment,” but do not get enticed into speculation. Recognize that there could be some uncomfortable pauses in the questioning. Don’t feel pressured to keep talking.

If you have sufficient time, coordinate your initial media contact with your defense counsel and your insurance company. These entities typically recommend that your company say nothing. However, a prepared statement of empathy and concern might be in your best interest.

Andy Sievers
Sievers Safety Services, LLC
Mahomet, IL
(217) 714-1960

About the Author


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