Media Minute: Can you say too much?
By Jerry Brown, APR
Where did it go? And why? I’m talking about the missing Malaysian airliner, of course. Its disappearance has become an intriguing saga.
It also raises a question for anyone interested in crisis communication: Can you provide too much information? My answer: Yes, you can. But it’s more dangerous to provide too little.
In the days immediately after Flight MH370 disappeared there were multiple reports about debris sightings that might have come from the missing plane and a variety of misinformation — some from official sources — that had to be corrected.
“At best, Malaysian officials have thus far been poor communicators; at worst, they are incompetent,” one U.S. official told CNN of the misinformation provided in the days following the plane’s disappearance.
As I see it, the debris sightings were useful information even though none of them panned out. The debris was real. The need to check it out was real. Some of the speculation and rumors that proved to be false? That was too much information.
In virtually every case, the sources of the misinformation probably were just trying to be helpful. There’s always an information vacuum immediately following an incident like the disappearance of Flight MH370. And both the media and the public — especially families and friends — are clamoring for details.
In that pressure cooker, the temptation to release “information” that hasn’t been verified can be overwhelming. Giving in to that temptation is usually a mistake.
Here’s my simple guide on how to avoid saying too much or too little:
Say what you know, not what you think you know. When the health or safety of the public — or some portion of the public — is at stake, you owe it to the rest of us to share all relevant information with us. But never speculate. No matter how well intentioned, putting out misinformation will destroy your credibility.
Don’t withhold the bad stuff. It’s always tempting to withhold information that reflects badly on you or your organization. Don’t give in to that temptation. The information you most want to withhold often is the information you most need to share.
Communicate as soon as you can and as often as necessary. If it’s something the public will want to know as soon as possible, don’t sit on information you’ve verified just because your next briefing is scheduled for eight hours from now. Get it out now if it makes sense to do so.
We all have stories to tell. Do you need help telling yours?