How to handle media interviewers who ask for guarantees

When responding to a crisis, the public wants to know for a certainty that mistakes won’t be repeated. Here’s how to handle this sticky situation.

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Communicators always want to make promises they know they can keep, even when their organization is in full-blown crisis.

For example, if there has been a terrible train crash and people have died, at some point the CEO of the train operator or perhaps a politician will be asked a variation of “can you guarantee this won’t happen again.” Or perhaps the crisis is a data breach and the spokesperson could well be asked “can you ensure this never happens again?”

The temptation, of course, in both these examples is to issue a guarantee. It sounds bold and reassuring.

However, this is a question which can take spokespeople down a dangerous path, because offering this sort of guarantee is riddled with risk, as in virtually every situation it is almost impossible to make such a promise with any confidence.

We would all like to think that lessons will be learnt from crisis media management incidents, but even if improvements are made, no-one can be 100% certain that the same thing could not happen in the future.

Issuing a guarantee simply makes organizations and their spokespeople hostages to fortune, promising something that they can’t live up to.

It is a response which can tee up future embarrassment.

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