Media attention – the greatest fear for a company facing a crisis. And yet, journalists are the best allies in times of crises. The government’s approach to communication during the COVID 19crisis is an extreme, yet striking, example of just that. We talked to Yves Stevens, spokesperson for the National Crisis Centre, about his experiences and insights. And he concurred: “A crisis should be conquered together with the media”.

“The media are only interested in undermining our narrative” is often lamented by companies in crisis. Based on this perception, these companies will do everything they can to defend  themselves against the barrage of critical questions journalists launch. But this is where they are wrong: The goal of the media is not to undermine a company but to inform the society. Which, incidentally, is also the purpose of crisis communication – to inform the stakeholders concerned. To explain what has happened, what this means to them and what the company is going to do about it.

Our  advice is to always be transparent with the media in case of a crisis.

That is also what happened (and is still happening) during the COVID crisis. “The media play  a crucial role,” Yves Stevens emphasizes. “That is why the National Crisis Centre organised a press conference on a daily basis. The purpose of this was to consistently share accurate and factual information, from one location and at a set time. But these press conferences were also the perfect moment to respond to the concerns of the population. And since we monitored social media on a daily basis, we knew exactly what was playing. This way we could easily  counter rumours and defuse conspiracy theories, address any misunderstandings, and call on people to refrain from subverting the lockdown measures.”

The Crisis Centre considered the media  its greatest ally.

As far as the Crisis Centre was concerned, the media were the ideal channel to communicate transparently to all the COVID crisis stakeholders. The media helped them convey the details of the crisis to the Belgian population. A defensive attitude toward the media – doing nothing more than countering critical questions from the journalists – would only have backfired. “Because with an approach like that, you only end up sharing a minimum of information,” Yves explains. “And the population (as stakeholders in the COVID crisis) would not have accepted that in any way. What is more, an approach like that cannot be sustained in a longlasting crisis like this one.”

Have your communications team prepare  for crisis communication even during non-crisis times.

The COVID crisis may seem like an extreme example, yet the Crisis Centre’s approach makes one thing perfectly clear: those who have a good relationship with the media will find themselves in a stronger position if a crisis breaks out. And that is precisely the reason why we advise governments, politicians, companies and organisations to build and maintain good relationships with the media . And to do this proactively. That way you not only have an idea of the media which report about you and your company or organisation, but they also have a more nuanced image of you.