I have had the privilege of dealing with many types and forms of public relations crises playing attack and defense. I have had to work in the midst of domestic and international disasters like Joplin, Katrina and the Japanese tsunami and have also worked diligently to defend public figures. All major institutions have a fair share of PR challenges; tragedy, triumph and everything between. In the business of PR it never ends. You never quite come out of a piece of drama before the next challenge reveals itself.
I have a few minutes here in the ORU campus coffee shop as I wait on the next draft of the latest crises fact sheet to think about Public Relations and crises management. Based on my years of experience there are 6 things I would recommend to any professional to help begin to manage any PR crises.
1.) Understand that whatever the crises has happened (or is happening) have determinable course of action in motion. The only elements that you immediately control are the message and release. Focus there.
2.) In the first 24 to 48 hours of any crises the facts are blurred at best so do not speculate; be factual. Avoid emotion. “We don’t know that…” or “more information is forthcoming…” or “we will have a press briefing in 4 hours…” will buy you time until the facts can be clarified. The media will give you a bit of space if they know you will be transparent. Facts are your friends stick to them.
3.) Make sure that your leadership (President, CEO or spokesperson) is out front as soon as there is something to say with a pointed message. The first message out sets the stage for everything else to follow. Social media needs to be a key tool. Make sure leadership doesn’t over share. Brevity can be powerful.
4.) Find ways to be transparent with the information in a systemic way. Unless you are a news organization, don’t worry about staying in front of the story once the story breaks. Your job is to feed the facts to the press and public but do so in a coordinated manner not in dribbles.
5.) Don’t play favorites in the press corps. Information is free but trust is earned. Say, “I don’t’ know” when you don’t know and make sure your releases are crisp and brief and are distributed to everyone with relevant press clearance.
6.) Continually frame the story from the perspective of those most directly impacted (survivors, the families of those that lost loved ones, the grieving community). One way to do this is to make sure that your core constituents have a way to express emotions, receive hope, and above all have a means to get the facts as they become available.
If you’ve never had to deal with a PR crises count yourself as blessed. I hope these few pointers will help you navigate those difficult waters should you have to.