"Besides being succinct and truthful, the second most fundamental step is to control the flow of information," Humphries says.
"When you lose control of the flow, the reporters — remember, they're professionals and very good at this — take control and
put you at a disadvantage. By controlling the flow, you determine exactly what [information] the media gets — give them what
they ask for, or at least make them feel they have all they need so they don't go elsewhere."
How does one stay in control of a media crisis? Humphries summarizes the process this way:
• Get the facts
Become fully versed on the issue. "It could be a complaint against you or your practice, or the media may ask you to comment
on what happened to another veterinarian or practice," Humphries says. "I recommend that vets first call their state veterinary
association, which probably is already aware of the issue and likely has people trained in media-crisis techniques who can
• Craft your message in short, simple sentences
"Don't think in paragraphs. A good sound bite is about two sentences. Write a few of them down, really craft them and practice
saying them," Humphries says. "Use calming, valued words, such as 'We responded immediately, and are doing everything we can
to correct the matter.'
"Remember that most journalists will ask leading questions designed to highlight the negative, so your goal is to turn it
around to the positive," Humphries explains.
• Craft "bridging" statements
These are brief phrases to "take you from where you don't want to be straight to your message point," Humphries explains.
"A bridge typically is used after giving a brief answer. For example, a reporter might ask if the state board did the right
thing by suspending another vet's license.
"The reporter is looking for you to say something negative. You deflect that with words like, 'I can't speak to all the details
in that case, but what I can tell you is...[the state board is made up of competent people who do a fine job of controlling the quality of veterinary practice] or [the
state board is led by highly qualified, respected and exceptionally qualified veterinarians.]' "
The bridge statement is the part that turns the issue around, Humphries says. "It is a quick phrase like, 'but what I can
tell you is,' 'but the good news is,' 'but what I do know is,' 'but what I can tell you is,' words like that. Something that
segues into your positive message."
That process is the essence of what Humphries calls "Communication Crisis Management 101."
"Answer or deflect, then bridge to your message point, and don't let reporters lead you away from that. If you're well prepared
with these thoughts in mind, then even if a journalist ambushes you in a parking lot and sticks a microphone in your face,
instead of foolishly trying to put your hand over the camera lens — which just makes one look guilty of something — you can
give a calm, quick, truthful answer and then bridge to your positive message."
It's one thing when the media ask a veterinarian to comment about the work of another. One should avoid demeaning or speaking
ill of colleagues, Humphries says. But it's quite a different matter when the media confronts a practitioner about a complaint
or accusation against them personally.