When Your Company is in the Spotlight, Are You Ready to Respond?


Courtney Babin
ACFE Communications Coordinator

When things go publicly wrong in the corporate world, as they often can, the media will inevitably become involved. “There are a number of best practices that companies who find themselves suddenly under the harsh light of media attention can employ to make sure that they are portraying their actions, and the situation that has occurred, in the best possible light,” says Katherine McLane, media relations and crisis management expert, and founding partner of The Mach 1 Group, during a recent Fraud Talk podcast interview.

Since every inquiry is an opportunity to tell your side of the story, the golden question when these situations arise is: Should your organization talk to the media? According to McLane, there are two scenarios:

  1. If this is an opportunity for you to share your important messages about the situation in a positive way, then you should talk to the media and have those messages prepared. “The two, three or four points that you absolutely want people to understand and grasp, deliver those and be disciplined about delivering them. Don’t go off topic,” says McLane.
  2. If this a case where you cannot possibly win and the headlines are going to be bad either way, then don’t put out a statement, but remember that keeping silent is a rare occasion. “It’s very, very rare where I would counsel a client, ‘Hey, don’t say anything,’” says McLane.

According to McLane, unless there are stringent legal considerations, one of the worst things a company can do is wait to make a statement. “We counsel folks: don’t wait till your CEO is off the golf course to make some kind of statement,” says McLane. A statement does not have to be a play-by-play. “[A statement] can simply convey, ‘We understand the gravity of the situation, we are taking time to review all the facts, and as soon as we have more to say we will do so.’ ”

Fraud examiners usually operate behind the scenes, out of the limelight. But when an organization needs a fraud examiner to lead an investigation, you may need to prepare to talk to the media on and off camera. Here are a few tips on how to be prepared for your off-camera interview:

  • Do your homework.
    Look at the reporter and news station’s related stories. By doing this you can learn their opinions before you have to face them. “Knowing [their opinions], being prepared and being aware that they are going into the interview with some fore-gone conclusions is very important,” says McLane.
  • Know what reporters are looking for.
    Reporters are looking for change, controversy and conflict. Keep them interested in your positive message by keeping these in mind.
  • Once you’ve answered a question, stop talking.
    “Great reporters apply the rules of conversation to their interviews,” says McLane. “We, as everyday people, react to that because we consider an interview a conversation… it’s not.” Convey your key messages and don’t go off topic.
  • Never go ‘off the record’ with a reporter.
    Unless you have a close friendship with the reporter, do not go off the record. According to Media Manoeuvres, “Off-the-record can mean that whatever the journalist is told can be reported so long as it is not attributed to the person who said it.”

Occasionally talking to the media includes on-camera interviews. Keep in mind that during these interviews, your audience is the viewer, not the reporter. “You can give two hoots about what the reporter thinks of you,” says McLane. “What’s important is what your shareholders, your board members and the general public perceive about your performance.” Here are a few tips for an on-camera interview:

  • Have a friendly expression.
    “Don’t frown, don’t have a mega-watt smile but look friendly, inviting and engaged,” says McLane. You want your audience to like you. Remember that you are portraying your company.
  • Be aware of your body language.
    Body language is very important. Through your movement and posture you can relate your sub-conscious feelings. Nervous? Don’t let the audience know. “If you are seated, sit up straight in your chair. No slumping, obviously,” says McLane. “Possibly lean forward and keep your gestures pretty minimal.” Movement is very distracting on camera.
  • Know how to answer unwinnable questions.
    You can do this by just sticking to your message. “It feels weird because it’s not something that we do in regular conversation, but this is not a conversation,” says McLane. “You are representing an organization and you’re giving a performance.” Never say ‘no comment.’ If you can’t answer a question just explain that and bridge back to your key message. For example: ‘I’m not sure I can answer that question but what I can tell you is, *insert your key message here.*’ “Bridging over to some topic that does reflect well for you and that you do have a good answer for is absolutely advisable,” says McLane. 

“The reason [you] do an interview is to convey your key messages. Going into an interview, have those messages firmly in mind, know exactly how you want to deliver it and practice it,” advises McLane. If needed, sit down with a colleague and ask them to think of the 10 absolute worst questions you could face and to throw them at you. “Reacting on-camera to a tough question is really difficult,” says McLane. “But if you’ve had a bit of practice, it helps you overcome that initial anxiety that happens when you hear that tough question.”

To hear McLane’s full podcast interview, visit ACFE.com/podcast.