on in Corporate PR
Nobody likes to dwell on the possibility of it happening, but should a crisis hit, the ability to act fast can make all the difference.
No doubt you’ve read all the books that tell you ‘the key to crisis management is advanced planning’, and yet it’s surprisingly common to find that this particular job never quite made it to the top of your to do list.
It’s a fact of life that every organisation is vulnerable to crises, so should you find yourself in this position, this blog post is for you. Cut out and keep it (or rather cut and paste) so that if the unthinkable occurs and you get a call from a journalist who has uncovered a major fault in your product, or from a customer who says your products have corrupted their data, you have a starting point on how to act.
As a PR person, you need to ensure that whatever you say to the media is true. Never state that the situation is under control if it isn’t. This means you need to go directly to the team or manager dealing with the problem and get the information straight from them. Do not accept a well-meaning messenger as a go between – the Chinese whisper effect can completely change a story.
If you can take steps to prevent more damage occurring while the situation unfolds, do so. Stop production, send emails or call customers to alert them to the issue and let them know how they might be affected. It’s also a good idea to review all your marketing, advertising and events that are in the pipeline and put them on hold if need be to avoid provoking any awkwardness or negative reactions.
Work out who the stakeholders are – employees, customers, investors, the press – and who needs to be liaised with in order to communicate with them effectively. For example, are there other partners who need to be involved in a joint statement? Can contact be made so that releases can be co-ordinated and notice given to each other of statements? This approach ensures you are not blindsided by any surprise statements from others involved.
Consider releasing an interim statement until you get the facts straight. ‘We are aware of the situation and are investigating the cause. We’ll be in touch as soon as we have more information,’ is far better to a journalist or customer than complete silence. It shows you are open and willing to talk, so the press are less likely to jump to conclusions.
When drafting a statement, there are two sides to consider:
An effective response will give equal weighting to both these points. But be careful with the wording – any line from a statement could be taken out of context.
Decide how to communicate the response and via which channels. If the story has been picked up widely you will need to be communicating to the media directly, plus to customers via your web site, social media channels and even on a one-to-one basis via email and phone when customers contact you directly.
A personal response from a named spokesperson is always best, even for a written statement. If you need a ‘live’ spokesperson, make sure that they are your best and most skilled speaker, and that they have been recently media trained. Also ensure they are fully briefed on the situation so that they can answer questions as fully and honestly as possible.
Avoid placing the blame fully and explicitly on someone else’s doorstep. Even if others were involved, it looks bad. If appropriate, and legally possible, apologise. That is often all people want to hear; that the company accepts they have made a mistake.
By being open and honest, and giving clear information about the steps you are taking to quickly address the issue, you will find that not every story is relentlessly negative. You can carefully encourage this subtle change of focus by bringing in allies to help, perhaps a happy customer or an association contact. Above all, making sure you do what you say you are going to do, when you say you are going to do it, will reap dividends in the long run.
After the crisis has passed, review your strategy. What worked, what didn’t work, what needs to change should the unthinkable happen again in the future.
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