Even if a controversy or crisis strikes out of the blue, there are steps you can take to minimize or even avoid damage to your reputation and your career. Here are some tips condensed from Chapter 25 of Explaining Research on protecting yourself from communication traps:
- Prepare yourself by understanding your institution's policy and support structures for handling communications in a crisis.
- Monitor your reputation by using Google Alerts and other services to know what is being published about you.
- Disclose in news releases and other communications any corporate ties and other possible sources of influences.
- Contact your institution's communicators as early as possible when a controversy or crisis is brewing.
- If you have to disclose bad news, rip off the bandage: do it quickly and all at once. Include in your disclosure how you are solving the problem. And do not use a terse "no comment," but explain why you cannot talk about something.
- Bargain with media for advantage. If a reporter gets the story through independent sources and is going to break the story before you are ready, offer to give the reporter access such as a one-on-one interview, and a jump on the release time, in return for giving you more time to prepare.
- For a breaking controversy, be prepared to go "real time," talking to reporters even as a story is breaking, so you do not appear to be hiding anything.
- Take into account the emotional content of the controversy or crisis, not just the facts, in planning your communications.
- Consider a preemptive strike if you know a controversial story will break. If you tell the story first, you can tell it your way instead of reacting to another version.