Despite its popularity, the saying “all PR is good PR” couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Take, for example, the recent indictment of Michael Vick. Now that’s a PR nightmare. In a country where you’re innocent until proven guilty, the court of public opinion is often where a case is first presented. When public perception and media frenzy get involved this sometimes outweighs the right to a fair trial and can ruin a career irreparably before any verdict is achieved.
Crisis communication and planning should be an ongoing activity, and although there might not always be an apparent source for concern, we must always think about the “what ifs.”
That’s where branding and the importance of marketing come into play.
Below is a basic outline when dealing, or not dealing with, a bad state of affairs.
Have a plan
Now I’m sure Michael Vick’s publicist didn’t think he was going to be the source of negative judgment by the American public; nevertheless, for those of you in the marketing business, one must be prepared for anything.
For my home industry comrades, a crisis may be defined as a product malfunction or a negatively portrayed corporate restructure. Think the worse. It may sound bizarre to say a pessimistic attitude is key, but believe me, thinking the worse will get you far in managing a crisis.
If you have a plan, then you’ll have no problem aligning your team to implement it.
Don’t succumb to the pressure
PR reps have a terrible reputation of leaving out details to spin the truth in their clients’ favor. It’s not worth it. No matter what your crisis, lying should not be part of it.
Tell the truth and do it fast. If you do this, you have done everything in your power to help minimize the damage of the situation. If you’re not the chosen spokesperson, ensure that he/she knows that telling the truth isn’t an option, it’s a must.
Choose a competent team
In the case that a bad situation may arise, you must have a well-trained staff to answer calls from the media. Even if you’re not fully prepared to answer, make sure a statement is drafted to ensure all team members are responding in the same matter. If you can not legally comment at that time, tell the media that, but promise disclosure when it is possible. Don’t let your voicemail message answer the media calls. Ignoring the media only stirs up more controversy.
Talking points are your best friend
Sometimes a bad situation will arise before you know it. Have your ducks in a row. Determine appropriate company positioning and messaging statements to address the emergency.
Doing this establishes credibility and confidence with both internal and external audiences. Don’t let the lawyers do the talking, your primary goal is to protect the integrity and reputation of your company, your brand, or your client.
Take yourself outside of the company
When determining appropriate messaging statements remember that you’re a human being, craft your statements with human concern and emotion if appropriate.
There a multitude of reasons why a crisis can occur. Here are some frequent examples:
- Clerical error
- Human error
- Judgment error
- Inadequate procedures
- Bad R&D data
Whatever the reason behind the crisis, remember, ignoring it will only make a bad situation worse.
Practice makes perfect
If you are the communications specialist, making your CEO or company spokesperson practice those highly-anticipated “tough media questions” will make him/her more comfortable when in front of the cameras. If you are a CEO, this is a time when you need professional guidance.
It’s the communications professionals job to ensure that the corporate spokespeople feel comfortable in their role. Nervous or dodgy company spokespeople will only make it onto You Tube , they won’t win a medal for handling the crisis flawlessly.
Know your audience
Determine who the crisis has affected. Talk to them. No one cares about the prior success of your company and how great everyone is there; the media and the public want to know who this is affecting and what you’re going to do to fix it. Showing concern for your target audiences is the beginning of rebuilding your relationship with them.
Lastly, if you’re a company seeking a marketing agency to handle a crisis or potential crisis, make sure the agency clearly understands the importance of your company values and procedures. One size doesn’t fit all in crisis communications.