The No. 1 way to manage a communications crisis is to have a solid media presence in place before it ever begins. That way, your business already has a trusted, large audience to communicate your message with during any crisis event and interested parties know to come to your channels first instead of relying on the message that comes from the media.
7 things to never say or do:
Our team has assisted clients in many types of crisis situations. If you’d like a consultation, reach out to us at CandiceMcElyea@gmail.com and check out these tips below!
- No Comment. In the court of public opinion, this means, “I did it.” Saying “I don’t know” or “I am looking into it, etc.” will get better results.
- It’s the media’s fault. While this may work in politics, it can backfire easily. You want the media on your side and the best way to accomplish that is to establish good relationships with the media and be open with them. In-person meetings are best.
- It’s the victim’s/complainant’s fault. Always stay away from passing the buck or placing blame on someone else. Show empathy – even if your complainant is lying. Be the bigger person, be bold and be sincere.
- Never lie. Everyone is a private investigator these days, and lies are uncovered at the speed of a 140-character typed tweet. Tell the truth always. Spinning the truth is way easier than recovering from a lie.
- He/she/we are not available. This tells the media and the public you don’t have time for them. Make someone available to comment.
- Nothing. PR storms don’t blow over if you hide under the covers. Either you tell your story and manage the message or others will line up to do it for you.
- Don’t air dirty laundry. Time for a social audit. Are you on social media? Are your employees? What channels? This is the time to turn it off. Do not engage via social media channels about your PR crisis AT ALL. Commenting and posting should be limited to only positive posts about unicorns, rainbows and puppies or nothing at all.
10-step plan in a PR crisis:
- Gather your team. This should be a small group of decision-making senior executives, such as the CEO, senior PR person and attorney. Your legal crisis is related to, but separate from, your public relations crisis. Admit your mistakes and take steps to make it right.
- Identify spokespersons. These 1-2 people are the ONLY people to ever make a comment about the issue. Only one person should handle/take all media inquiries and only one person should speak to the media. This should, in most cases, be the highest senior executive or the client directly.
- Media coaching. Untrained spokespeople can take your company down –whether you are in a crisis or not. Well-intentioned executives often think they can speak to the media with little or no coaching or training, and this can be disastrous. Brainstorm questions, practice answers, repeat established talking points and perform video practice sessions if needed.
- Establish key protocols for communication sharing. Remember that phone tree that you took part in for your child’s PTO? Imagine that scenario but more structured. Figure out who from your team or in your company needs to have up-to-date information and decide how this information will be shared. Think of it as a hotline or direct-to-the-top, open-door policy for employees who spot or need to be informed about the crisis. Face-to-face or over-the-phone communications are always better than emails. Are emails public record? If so, only communicate via phone or in person.
- Identify your audiences – internal and external. Remember your employees, the community, media, customers, private investors, elected officials, SEC requirements and regulatory agencies. People who know you and your company to be honest and compassionate will find it easier to believe you care and are telling the truth when things aren’t going your way. Find these people, have them on a list, make personal calls to assure their support and offer them up to media as secondary interviewees. Make it easy for the
media to find people who will back you up and support you.
- Anticipate other potential pitfalls. Be proactive and brainstorm other potential fall out during a crisis. What else might come out? Who else may come forward? Are there photographs, video or online information that is unflattering?
- Assess the situation. Get access to as much information about the scenario as possible before responding to media. Reacting without adequate information is a classic “shoot first and ask questions later” scenario. Know how you’re going to get the right info fast.
- Identify key messages. Keep your talking points simple and short with no more than three messages for all audiences targeted specifically at key audiences.
- Plan your communication methods. Will you communicate via an emailed statement, press release, video or social media? Do you have a social media policy in place for employees? Where will you place your message? Do you have a website and social media channels to spread your key messaging? All messages across all mediums should be consistent and come from one source.
- Ride it out. Monitor comments, reactions, tweak messaging if necessary and be patient. And remember, the public has a very short attention span – this too shall pass.