Do No Harm

A few weeks ago, I’m sure you saw the infamous press briefing conducted by Trump physician Sean Conley and the phalanx of white coated doctors standing behind him at Walter Reed Medical Center.

How sick was the President? When had he last tested negative? The questions from the assembled media came fast and furiously. Yet Conley stuck to his sunny prognosis. Unanswered questions swirled; rumor became fact. And a new story emerged. What was the medical team not saying? Why the cover-up? 

I suppose you could say that there’s a kind of unspoken Hippocratic Oath that guides crisis communications, but in a different way. Do No Harm.

Sure, we’d all like to get “our “story out. But especially during crises, that’s not the way it goes. At the end of the day it’s less about “wins” and more about not making things worse.

It got me thinking about press briefings and how difficult they can be under the best of circumstances. Firing squad? Target practice? Dunk tank? Yep. That’s the way it feels when you’re out in front, a human first line of defense during an unfolding crisis.

Here are four “don’ts” that might be useful:

Don’t Hide #1

Even a little bit of truth is better than none at all. Reporters have an unfailing ability to smell “spin” and then they’re off and running. Buy yourself at least a modicum of credibility. It will go a long way.

“I’m here to answer your questions and will to the degree that I can. The situation is changing and I’ll make every effort to update you as we learn more.”

Don’t Hide #2

Take the damn call. Being labeled as “unavailable for comment” begs the question. What is it you’re hiding?

“Let me see if I can get an answer to that question and I’ll get back to you.”

Don’t Try Too Hard to Get Your Point Across

Methinks s/he protests too much. Over-explaining means over-compensating. Answering a reporter’s question can be exhausting but keep it simple. Stick to your guns in as few words as possible.

“I’ll send you the statement that we issued earlier. Let me know if you need more.”

Don’t Get into a Fight

Remember that while reporters are not your friends, they’re also not your enemies. No one wants to talk to the media in the middle of a crisis, but that comes with the territory. Keeping calm is always the way to go; resist the temptation of allowing emotions to take over.

“It sounds as though we see this differently. I’m not going to argue, and I will do my best to get you the information you need.”

Conley and his handlers were pilloried for their performance. And rightly so. But you don’t have to be. Be prepared for some give and take, a little quid pro quo. Stay steady, stay calm, and lead with authenticity, not obfuscation.