When a crisis hits
While we would like to always promote the fun and happy things – community events, product launches, new services, people’s accomplishments, etc. – unfortunately, every PR professional will undoubtedly have to deal with crisis communications for situations that are not as rosy.
A crisis for anyone can seem daunting and overwhelming. A PR professional often is the one in the room who remains calm and level-headed. The most important advice for PR professionals and clients? Take a deep breath. Reacting rashly, in a panic or too quickly in a crisis can make the situation worse.
In taking a breath, it is also important to get all of the details of the situation before reacting. While this may seem to be the most time consuming and cumbersome task at the time, it is critical to ensure that any statements are being made based on accurate information and not rumors and supposition.
Additionally, it is important to understand how the crisis will impact the business that day and in the future, including the client’s reputation and its customers. This step helps to craft messaging about how the client is handling the situation, including operational changes and investigations.
In today’s 24/7 news cycle and social media world, it is often prudent to task someone with monitoring all of the news coverage and social media discussion. Through this monitoring, you can tell the reach of the crisis (just local or beyond) and what people, including customers, elected officials and competitors, are saying about the situation and your client. You may need to be prepared to respond to the discussion once you have all of the information in order to stop rumors from spreading, to correct the record or simply to issue the client’s statement on the matter.
And while social media may be one medium through which your client issues their statement, it certainly should not be the only one. Direct outreach to the media through a press release and a corporate blog post are critical communication tools too. And once the response has been issued, it is important to monitor response and to determine what follow up statements or interviews may be needed.
You also need to prepare for the second day story – the follow up questions such as“Why did this happen?” and “How can it be prevented in the future?” A detailed question and answer document often helps clients prepare for these follow up inquiries.
Once the situation has passed, a PR professional’s work is not over. It is important to review the response process and your client’s crisis communications plan to see how you and your client can better avoid, react to and manage a crisis in the future.
A PR crisis can be a very intense and stressful time that requires fast action. My goal in a PR crisis (or any crisis for that matter) is first and foremost to remain calm while still reacting quickly and appropriately to the situation. And outside of a crisis, I realize that it is even more important to further promote a client’s positive brand and image thus, lessening any long-term negative impact from a crisis in the future.