7 Things I Have Learnt About Dealing With A Media Feeding Frenzy

Hard Won Lessons From Experience

Any health care CEO will tell you that sooner or later something is likely to go badly wrong.  

Our organisations conduct high-risk activities every day and our clinical teams perform to the highest standards. The fact remains however that according to a recent study by Johns Hopkins Medicine medical error should rank as the third leading cause of death in the United States.

Health is something we can all relate to – and so it’s always interesting to hear stories, good or bad, about healthcare. 

So what do you do when trouble comes and the satellite vans are parked on your lawn?

Photo by Robert Daly/OJO Images / Getty Images
Photo by Robert Daly/OJO Images / Getty Images

I’ve faced many such situations and have learnt the hard way how to manage them. Here are seven things I have learnt from managing media feeding frenzies.

1 Make Sure You Are In Possession Of The Facts

Nothing will undermine your efforts to manage the situation more than appearing to be vague or unsure or just plain wrong. It's vital that you understand what the available facts are – even if a full explanation of why something has happened may lie months in the future.

Make it clear that to your team that the appropriate time to conduct an investigation is not now – your focus is on being told as accurately as possible what has really happened.

Your goal is to know at least as much as the reporters. You definitely don’t want to be learning something new while being interviewed.

2. Be Authentic 

If it’s too early to say why something has happened with any certainty, then say so. If you can see that what has happened has caused distress or harm, acknowledge it. 

3. Monitor The Editorial Line

Make sure that someone is monitoring the editorial line that is developing so you can adjust your presentation accordingly. Stories have a way of developing in unexpected directions and what was the focus first thing in the morning may be very different by lunchtime.

4. Don’t Be Defensive

There is no mileage in appearing to be defensive. Be truthful and confident you are doing the right thing by making yourself available to answer question. Bear in mind that what has happened can’t be undone and that it is what happens next that will define how you and your organisation will be judged.

5. Be Accountable

Being accountable means that in general you shouldn’t allow there to be an empty chair. In other words it’s always better to get out there and face what’s happening, even if this is frightening. Not doing so will speak volumes.

6. Remember You're Talking To Your People As Well As The Public

For good or ill you have now got your staff’s attention. Now you’ve got an opportunity to convey something important to those who work in your organisation, even while you are being pressed for answers by the reporters.

So think about the tone you want to set and consider the message which underscores your responses. 

7. Be The Leader You Want Your Organisation To See

If you can stay calm and authoritative (not authoritarian), sound authentic (because you are) and if you can show that you are behaving in ways that are congruent with your every day leadership style, then you will have done more than just weather the storm.

Question: What advice would you give?