07 Aug 7 Essential Steps to Manage a PR Crisis
Crisis can hit any business at any time and quite often there’s no warning.
Handling crisis badly can have a huge knock-on effect. Immediate effects include bad coverage and mayhem on social channels. Unfortunately, the adage about today’s news being tomorrow’s chip paper no longer rings true in our digital age.
Follow this up with reputational damage, negative reaction from partners and shareholders and even a damaging effect on share prices. The ability to manage a crisis is essential.
So, as a communicator what are the essential steps to grab the crisis by the horns and managing it to a positive outcome (as much as is possible)?
1. Prepare, prepare and prepare again!
Whenever you hear about a crisis coming your way take a moment or an hour [depending on how much warning you get] to step back and prepare. This time is key. Think about who will be impacted, who needs to be made aware, what’s the background, what’s the timing. Be as informed as you can be before kicking off the rest of the activity.
2. Line up your allies
Think about who within the business has insight into the issue and will be essential in supporting the resolution. Who is necessary to brief the media, staff, the C-level team, customers and wider stakeholders… then bring these individuals together into a crisis taskforce? Also think about outside support, do you have an agency that you could loop in to support?
This team will be your go-to for the right information, measuring the impact and considering the outcomes. Time is of the essence: the best approach is to brief once and brief well. Your taskforce will need to input into the strategy, delivery and to approve content. Brief them on the issue, consider the best outcome and work out how to get there collectively.
3. Identify a front man, but don’t forget a back up
You hopefully have a media trained spokesperson, prepared for a range of different media interviews and who holds a role that’s relevant to the topic.
When dealing with a crisis scenario it would be wise to ensure you have a back-up prepared too. Having multiple trained and briefed spokespersons will assist in briefing all audience groups at speed and in a concise manner.
4. Work on reactive responses
As soon as you have an inkling of what you’re dealing with, start drafting reactive statements. Even if you’re unsure of the specifics of the crisis, draft responses that can be amended for the different outcomes. As quickly as possible review with your crisis taskforce to agree the position so the response only needs quick amends once the issue has landed. Ensure your responses are honest and as transparent as possible.
Drafting a bank of questions and model answers is incredibly helpful to prepare the spokesperson in advance of interviews, if you have the time. We recommend that these can cover the immediate issue, as well as wider related topics and areas to steer well clear of.
5. Control the message
The scale of the crisis will help determine how far the proactive communications need to go. If approached by the media for comment, it’s best to avoid issuing a ‘no comment’ response. You might think you’re closing the opportunity down, but no comment still says something. Usually that either you don’t want to engage or can’t engage in a way that will be positive, so you are trying to avoid.
If you do communicate with the media, it’s advisable to communicate the same message with context to employees in advance of the news story going live. It is important the staff see a consistent front and aren’t caught unawares by the news story.
6. Think of all channels
Consider who talks externally to the business across all channels. Employees answering the external phones, emails and monitoring social channels must fully understand the situation and the process for responding to press or customer enquiries. The most important element of this however is that as few people as possible communicate with the media to ensure a consistent message and that employees know who to direct them to and the timeliness required.
On top of all this, don’t forget your owned channels. Consider pausing planned content on social channels, or the launch of a brand campaign, until the initial heat has died down so as not to further irritate the situation with mixed messaging.
In addition, sales staff out on the road need to be briefed of the situation and where to direct difficult questions.
7. Monitor and share
Keep an eye on coverage throughout the crisis period, monitor the reaction, where it was shared and the engagement with the content. Share an overview with your crisis taskforce and C-level team so they are updated with the scale of what you are dealing with.
A strategic approach to crisis will help manage a controlled response. The better planned and briefed you are the more successful this will be and the quicker the business will recover.