The only way to really learn how to best handle a PR crisis is to go through one. Being in the midst of a crisis can seem overwhelming, but I’ve compiled a list of six lessons for PR crisis managers to keep in their back pocket for when the going gets rough.
- Have a plan
The first step to handling a crisis should be executed long before the crisis actually occurs. You need to develop a crisis plan that fully encompasses every potential threat you and your company could encounter, a list of passwords that will provide access to business information, contact lists, etc., as well as prepared communications such as news releases, social media posts and responses to common questions.
- No person or organization is immune from experiencing a crisis
No one person, technology or procedure is failure-proof – that’s just a fact of life. The sooner you accept that fact, the better because inevitably, it DOES happen to those who say, ‘it will never happen to me.’
- Your attitude sets the stage for the media’s response
The time-tested tale here is that the media, as well as your employees and any other publics, take queues from the person delivering the message. If you remain calm, cool and collected, the immediate threat and intensity of the crisis will most likely diminish. If you react poorly to bad news or escalating threats, your audience will pick up on that and may be on higher alert than necessary.
- Your first public address should be as conclusive as possible
As your company’s CEO or spokesperson, you will be the face that the public associates with the news about your business. It’s best to be open, responsive, honest, and empathetic with as prompt of disclosure as possible. If you leave out important details right away – or worse, if important details come from someone other than you – it could be detrimental to the way the crisis is viewed by the public. You could look as though you’re trying to hide or cover up news, which is never a good reputation to have.
- Having a plan is only useful if you use it
Just because you have a crisis plan written doesn’t mean it will automatically execute itself in times of need. You and your entire team need to know the plan, be familiar with the plan and, most importantly, know where it is housed. In addition, make sure you have extra copies (even printed copies) on-hand should there be an emergency where you can’t access your computer or phone.
- A crisis doesn’t stop when the sun sets
Sure, the initial event that caused the crisis may be over, but any PR pro will tell you that’s when their work really begins. You need to continue to be responsive to the media, monitor news about your organization and, if necessary, work to correct the public image of your organization.