On Wednesday 17th August, I got the news that the Paralympic cyclist we support – Simin Richardson MBE – had been airlifted to hospital in an horrific hit and run road accident. Simon, whose condition was critical, fought back from a similar accident in 2001 to go on and win three medals at the Beijing 2008 Paralympics (2 Gold and I Silver, aswell as breaking two world records). You can read more about him and why we sponsored him here. Media interest in the story was very high, as Simon was preparing for London 2012 in the hope of catching the selectors eye, this was a standard road training session for him.
Simon doesn't have an agent so I stepped in to assist the family with the media relations. I heard of the accident at 2.30pm, by 9.45pm I was on Radio Five Live, the following day I was recording TV intereviews for BBC, ITV and Radio 4 whilst in London on a business trip aswell as fielding multiple calls from national media – The Guardian, The Independent aswell as Cycling and Regional Press. I've been media trained, so here's my Top 10 tips to apply in the the middle of a media crisis: -
- Quickly establish a central point of information. One number or place to call for media enquiries, ensure that the people on the end of it are fully briefed at all times.
- Have all potential media contact points refer media enquiries back to this point (family, relevant organisations, employees, hosptial etc). Not always possible, but do what you can.
- Only deal in facts, dates, times etc – don't speculate or embellish facts, say them as they are. The media will do the speculating for you.
- Check stories that have been written to ensure that they are factually correct. If necessary, call the journalist back up.
- Keep dates, names and times of which journalists you talk to and what you said. I carried a notebook with me, that way you can refer back.
- Update regularly. I used Twitter and my cycling blog to issue news as and when we had it. One source of information, factually correct. You can read the updates and timeline here.
- Wherever possible keep interested organisations pro-actively checked in. Business partners, sponsors, stakeholders – ensure that they learn things in real time.
- Have a call to action set up. I could quickly direct people to my blog or Twitter feed, so when asked "Where should people go to?" I could quickly respond.
- Utilise social media where it can assist you. We used Twitter to launch a hashtag called #SIMONSTRONG where concerned cyclists could send their messages of support for Simon. This quickly morphed into a dedicated bike with all the Twitter follower names on. Read more about that here. Subsquently we launched a "Ride for Simon" campaign which went live over the weekend.
- Stay calm and rational. Float yourself above the situation and see it through another persons eyes. It will allow you to be more constructive in your help.
If you can, employ a media professional to do this for you. Not all businesses are of the size that they can afford to, but depending on what the crisis is, it may pay in the long run, particularly if it's a product or brand reputation issue.
As for Simon, he's still critical (10 days on) but getting better and making steps in the right direction. By positively managing the media, we've allowed his family to be at his bedside, protected them from interruption and managed the overwhelming support he has received from all areas of the cycling community.