Turning a PR crisis into an opportunity

Turning a PR crisis into a PR opportunity

It’s just another day in the office, in and out of meetings, responding to emails, answering calls. As you settle at your desk the phone starts to ring and social media mentions start coming in at a quick pace. Local and National Press have seen a video on twitter following an incident at your place of work that was shared just moments ago by a stranger, they have already run an initial story and now they want a quote from your business.

How did it get out so fast? It’s called citizen journalism that is the dark side of social media… a positive and a negative tied into one. Anyone can cover story or an incident, with mobile phones the content can be created quickly with just a touch of a button and with social media it can be shared quickly to hundreds of thousands. Before your communications or marketing department has even heard about it the story has gone viral and the damage has been done.

At this exact moment managing the problem efficiently is key to minimise damage. The way you communicate during a crisis can make the difference between the crisis escalating out of control and it being a minor setback.

Top Tip – Don’t wait for it to blow over… managing this in the right way can turn a crisis on its head John F. Kennedy once said: “When written in Chinese, the word ”crisis” is composed of two characters — one represents danger, and the other represents opportunity”

In a survey released by Freshfields “Containing a Crisis in the Digital Age” some frightening figures noted that 28 present of crises spread internationally within one hour, every scarier is that it takes an average of 21 hours before companies are able to issue meaningful external communications to defend themselves.

So what do you do? As always preparation and planning are your best friends in this situation, it is crucial to have a policy in place and make sure that everyone is aware of this. Remember that people want to be reassured and looked after, your audience isn’t just the media or stakeholders… it’s everyone and all external parties.

Social media and traditional media are tools you need to embrace – both platforms have direct access to the audiences you need to reach. Use them to get your messages across to your customers. With the right preparation, all forms of media can be an integral channel of communication when your company needs it the most.
When preparing in any form remember to think AMEN:

Audience – This is the most important bit… nothing will work if you do not know who they are and how to communicate.
Message – Not many people will remember more than one point, so decide what they need to know and stay on message. Be honest but don’t be led away from the message or give too much away.
Evidence/Example – Back up what it is you are saying, Human interest always works well to illustrate your points.
Negativity – Don’t call it crisis… try to be positive by not repeating negative phrases.

Top Tip – Communicate with the audience in a way that everyone can understand and stay away from industry jargon and simple it down if needed.

Here are four steps to remember when preparing for a PR crisis…

Acknowledgement: A crisis can come in any shape or size… Some may result in loss of life or significant injuries. Others will be less dramatic, such as late transport. Any of these could quickly become something bigger and cause a media storm beyond your knowledge. The most important thing is to admit that there’s a crisis and take responsibility for finding a solution and sorting it out. People may not like honest truth, but they will respect it and trust me this will go down better than “No Comment” or being palmed off.

Connect: In time of a crisis you won’t be dealing with happy people, you will be talking to people who you probably don’t normally communicate with; you need to be open, Proactive and prepared to answer difficult questions. If you don’t take charge of the messaging, and try to avoid questions you will just keep going back on yourself; try to remember that the media are not your enemies. Be Genuine, Transparent and Authentic; in a crisis situation, companies need to be committed to their mission, vision and values. Commit to maintaining an open, two-way dialogue and humanize your messaging by showing some compassion. No matter your position in a company you too are a human being with emotions and empathy, try to use this care acronym:

  • COMPASSION: You need to show the audience that you understand the severity of what has happened and the impact it has had.
  • ACTION: Outline what your organisation has already done and is doing to deal with the crisis.
  • REASSURANCE: Put the incident into context and show it is isolated. If the crisis is an accident, talk about the safety protocols you have in place and your previously good record.
  • EXAMPLES: Use examples to illustrate the key message you want to get across.

Take the reins: When a crisis happens it is of the up most Importance to know who will be leading the communications. Be prepared to step up and say the hardest word of all ‘sorry’! Develop a plan to deal with the crisis and ensure that you are the ones driving the agenda not the media. Companies often assume it will be the chief executive or company chairman who would front a crisis. Sometimes they may not always be the best person to put in front of the media. Remember we mentioned earlier that you need someone who can demonstrate compassion, authority and honesty and be able to connect with the audience.

Future proof: Once you’ve got the crisis under control, use it as an opportunity to look back over the procedures and see any gaps in your communications. There is a very valid reason that almost every buildings and businesses run regular fire drills. You don’t want to be in the middle of a real crisis when you discover your plans don’t actually work.

Running crisis simulations or even getting crisis training is a good idea and allows you to identify crisis before they arise and the skills needed to manage them.

Here is an example of how it should be done:

And just for fun here are some examples of how NOT to deal with these situations:

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