Updated: Dec 16, 2020
Being dazzled by the glittering lights of a fabulous PR feature for your business sounds great, but if you haven't got a carefully constructed crisis management strategy, then the whole business of your new PR venture may go to pot. Sounds unbelievable, doesn’t it? When everything is positive, it is hard to imagine anything ever going wrong. The press will always be on your side, right? Wrong. However, working with the press doesn’t have to be such a daunting task. So long as you plan ahead and cover every eventuality, and I mean, everything. So, in this post today, we talk about that one element of PR that all businesses would rather not talk about. The one thing that makes almost all business owners shudder and keeps PR professionals up all night sweating: Crisis Management: No company can ever be fully prepared for a crisis yet the more high profile you are, the harder it will be to shake off. In this day and age, businesses who want to venture into the press need to tread with caution. The press can be your ally. They can promote your service or product with ease and it won’t cost you a penny. The only trouble is, is that you don’t have a say in what they print if it’s a PR campaign. However, the higher up you are in the power stakes, the more clout you have when it comes to requesting such things like copy approval (which is asking to see a draft copy of the article before it goes to print.
The press can also be your enemy – sneaking up on you when you least expect it. They are, of course, only interested in a story and if it is gained at the expense of your image, then fair game. They are useful, very useful but, like you, they are out to survive and make money which is exactly what you’re doing. So be wary of that. The only way to harness their power and ensure you keep in control is to construct a plan for when it goes horribly wrong, just as much as when it goes right.
So what is it about Crisis Management that fills companies with dread? Probably the biggest reason is that they think they will never need it. After all, who is really going to be interested in something about the company that has changed recently? It’s amazing how many businesses overlook this fact that the press just might be interested in publishing your latest quarterly figures, particularly if they are down significantly. As someone once said, the news is what someone else doesn’t want published. Everything else is advertising. So, when faced with the front pages pointing the finger at you, what do you do?
Don’t panic Panic? No. That’s the last thing you should be doing. After all, you would have already put in place a Crisis Management plan for such eventualities. Panic will not come into it. Grow up One of the first things you should do, my friends, is Grow Up. Yes, grow up. It is time to take responsibility and acknowledge any wrongdoing. That doesn’t mean to say putting your hands up in the air to every accusation with ‘it’s a fair cop, Gov,’ but what it does mean is being diplomatic, transparent and honest. If you’ve screwed up, that’s fine, just don’t cover it up by telling everyone how wonderful you are, when at this point, you’re clearly not. Get active In this day and age, you can’t afford to sit back and reflect on any mistakes for too long. The digital age means that all businesses, big and small have to respond quickly to negative press. Don’t sit on it. No one will forgive you for it. Be ready to respond quickly but effectively, but don’t get knee jerked into saying something fast that could be more damaging than helpful. It will save your image from disaster. Having said that, if it’s an irrelevant comment in the press that is clearly just a dig at you for no reason other than to irritate you, then ‘no comment’ is fine. A good PR team will tell you when to leap and when not to.
Whatever you need to do, if you need to do it, do it as soon as you can. If it means compensation, then get active and start handing out the freebies. It will allow you to pick up your brand off the floor without too much damage. Make a call to action and then get on with it. If you say that you’re trying to do this and attempting to do that and then start doing it. You will likely win back some credibility.
Shut up and listen Before you go reaching for the keyboard tutting, listen to the complaint/the negative story and consider what the subtext is. What is the complaint about? Are you really listening to the problem?
Your reputation is on trial, yes, but consider you’re being listened to by potentially millions of people if you are responding digitally, so be careful how you say what you’re going to say. No one wants to be accused of not paying attention to the real issue. Get human When someone has a go at you over social media, don’t come back to them with a speech that sounds more like an MP’s cover-up. Ditch the corporate language and get human. Get on an equal level with your customer/stakeholder/press and talk to them as if they were human, (and yes, even the press can be human sometimes.)
Avoid ‘we’ speeches. Don’t say ‘we’re are always improving our blah blah blah.’ It won’t wash. Say ‘I am sorry’ rather than ‘we are sorry.’ it’s not about taking personal blame. It’s about effective communication and not distancing yourself from complainer like you’re above them. Be honest, say you are going to work through it and offer to keep them updated on your progress. People will feel you are not only getting on with resolving the problem, but you are respecting them too.