How to Prepare for a PR Crisis
A crisis can happen at any time. And most often it happens when you are least prepared. And when it happens, there is no such thing as a small crisis. In today’s environment things can go wrong when least expected. Your CEO is accused of financial misconduct, your employee is accused of harassment, your product has a manufacturing glitch, your pharmaceutical has unforeseen side effects. These, and more, can catch you off guard and make your life, and the life of your corporation, miserable. The best laid plans are those that are penned in advance. Here are some recommendations from T.J. Sacks & Associates, a New York-based public relations agency with experience fighting the good fight for companies in a bad situation:
1. Identify potential crisis situation(s) in advance. Identify your potential internal and external weaknesses. Start doing your research early to see where your weak links exist and how you might possibly shore them up ahead of an event.
2. Do you have a crisis plan? If not, these are elements to be considered: Start researching and writing a crisis plan today.
a. Identify your key response team.
-Media train them early and often — ideally in front of video camera so they can get immediate feedback on their mock responses.
-Have their contact information on hand for rapid access.
b. Have written statements prepared for each potential weak area.
c. Make sure that no one but the key response team members respond to any media calls.
-Train your receptionists and phone people so they know whom to forward the calls to in case of a crisis.
d. Alert staff as to whom are on the response team — explain that these are the only people authorized to speak to the media.
e. Stage crisis readiness simulations.
3. Key leadership role. Start preparing early to develop and fine-tune your corporate leadership. Make sure they are comfortable addressing the media and have them “practice” during off-crisis times, such as when they are releasing earnings or when a product’s sales are doing exceptionally well.
4. Be prepared to respond to the immediacy of social media. Are you prepared to respond quickly to misinformation, accusations and distortions? Is your social team prepared or will they have to wait hours and days for “corporate” to sanction social outreach? Is your management aware of the potential damage that waiting on social media can inflict?
5. Review and update your crisis plan annually. Once developed, and the team assembled, they should meet quarterly to review their “action plan.”
6. Hire a public relations agency. I have been involved in a number of crisis situations reaching from an ineffective birth control device to a crisis of confidence for an infant formula to poor quality manufacturing practices to improper corporate practices. In each case, we worked to develop a crisis plan, train the response team, prepare media responses and act quickly and effectively on behalf of our clients.
Although a crisis is seldom averted, it can be dealt with quickly and efficiently once all your ducks are lined up in a row, so to speak. Remember, be calm when all hell is breaking out, be straightforward when the hordes are pounding at your door and be truthful and quick to respond when the media call. Your reputation depends on your planning for the worst and being grateful that it has passed.