Risk Management

How to Control Your Message in a Crisis

When a crisis occurs, the press expects an explanation right away. Ari Fleischer, former White House press secretary, shares his formula for staying cool under pressure.

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A panel at the Secure Tourism Summit in New York City featured Ari Fleischer, former White House press secretary. Photo by Jenna Bascom Photography.

As White House press secretary for the George W. Bush administration between 2001-2003, Ari Fleischer, now president of Ari Fleischer Communications, got a master class in learning how to navigate sensitive matters with the press. Fleischer recently spoke at the U.S. Travel Association’s Secure Tourism Summit at the New York Marriott Marquis in NYC, where he shared his tips for staying composed in front of the press, whether you are representing the president of the United States or your local CVB.

Fleischer said he considers five things, which he remembers by using the acronym, THRDD, before speaking with journalists. They are:

T: TRUTH

“The most important thing for you to do when something goes wrong is establish grounds for truth. What are the facts? What took place? No sugarcoating it, and no making it right because it will help you sound better.”

H: HOMEWORK

“As soon as something goes wrong, you will be under immense pressure. If you respond to the pressure of the press making you speak before you’re ready to, that press conference will be a disaster. They will ask you 30 questions and you won’t know the answer to 29 of them, unless you stop to do your homework. You need to get the right people together and say, ‘Let’s walk through this. I need to know everything about what happened. How did this go wrong? Why did it go wrong? Who was affected?’”

R: REPORTER

“You need people surrounding you who think in an unvarnished fashion like reporters. The type of outsider you must think about if something goes wrong is a reporter, who is going to ask you the toughest, most cynical, difficult questions that you wish would never come up. Those are the first ones that will be asked.”

D: DEFINE YOUR MESSAGE

“If you own the newspaper that’s covering whatever it is you’re going to say in your session, what headline do you want to put on that story? If you cannot come up with your own headline—five, six, seven short words—you’re either not ready to talk to the press, or you’re overcomplicating it.”

D: DISCIPLINE

At that news conference, the press is going to try to knock you off your game. Having that discipline to know what questions you want to answer, what questions you don’t want to answer, and how to answer them.”

Casey Gale