Don’t ring us if you’re having a crisis

Seems a funny thing to say, when one of the services we provide is crisis PR management. But, if you’ll allow me to explain.

Famous business tycoon James Goldsmith is quoted as saying: “If you see a bandwagon, it’s too late.”

The same sentiment could be applied to a crisis. If you don’t have a plan in place to deal with a crisis before it hits you, you’re pretty much going to make a messy situation (look) much worse.

Response times when a crisis occurs are short. The media wants answers to why something happened and what you’re going to do about it. What’s more, they want the answers now. Not tomorrow, not next week when you’ve had chance to gather your team. Now, today.

Any delay looks like you’re trying to cover something up or you just don’t care.

Who, what, when

Who responds to the press? What do you say? What commitment do you make to putting things right?

Some of these things you can’t plan for, because you won’t be able to predict the exact nature of the crisis. It might be an issue with your products, poor customer service, a major environmental disaster, a fire, HR issues, bullying, discrimination…

What you can plan is a robust process that addresses all of the logistical things that need to happen, so that when a crisis does occur this process smoothly kicks in and everybody knows their role.

Who’s on the crisis team, who’s in charge of co-ordinating the response, who is the appointed spokesperson (you can’t wait for a crisis to occur to try and argue with the CEO that they aren’t the best performer in front of the TV cameras), who shouldn’t be talking to the media (virtually everyone else).

Time is of the essence in gathering facts, agreeing the best response (which may have massive financial implications for the business) and preparing a measured and reasonable reply that doesn’t lead to a whole host of follow up questions. Should the response be in person or via a written statement (this will depend on a lot of factors, including the type of media you are responding to, the seriousness of the crisis, and the risk of making things worse if you go off script)?

You can’t busk it

Many companies take an ‘it’ll be alright on the night’ approach to crisis planning. “I know my company and I’m confident I can answer any questions thrown at me” sort of thing. Well, if they’re ever faced with the lights of national TV companies and a razor sharp reporter, they might wish they’d had that planning in place and had, maybe, attended a media training course or two.

Even if it is local TV or newspapers, you don’t get an easy ride.

If you don’t handle a crisis well, the fallout can be bad. Very bad. And we’ve all witnessed it. Remember the Deepwater Horizon oil spill with the CEO’s comment that “I’d like my life back” seeming to lack empathy with the people who were living with the disaster (not to mention the fact that a number of workers had lost their lives)?

It didn’t exactly pour oil on troubled waters.

Now, for most companies, they will rarely or, perhaps never, experience a crisis and certainly not on the scale of a major oil disaster. But if you do find yourself in the midst of a PR crisis, it’s worth having a plan ready so you minimise the fallout.

But putting a crisis plan together takes time. It’s not something you can do in five minutes.

So, if the crisis is already in full swing, it’s almost certain you’re going to take a hit. Turning to a crisis PR specialist at this stage might help you limit the damage ever so slightly, but their main role will be one of reputation recovery - if the crisis isn’t terminal. Ratners anyone?


Categories: Opinion PR