We all know the old adage when it comes to the news, “If it bleeds, it leads.” Tragedy, crisis, or whatever terrible thing it may be, the news media will be all over it. In Part I, we learned to define a crisis and how to plan for it. Now, we’re going to talk about how to handle a crisis.
While it is almost impossible to manage a crisis (“crisis management” is a bit of an oxymoron), an out-of-control and unpredictable situation, it is possible to influence the outcome of a crisis. If no plan is put into action, destruction to a company, its personnel, and its reputation is assured to go on and on.
As PR people, we know how to effect, persuade and influence what journalists write and how the public thinks about a company. Using these skills, we can help a company emerge from a crisis with minimum damage to its character.
Employees with the highest authority should know what to do in a crisis, especially making sure that everyone is safe and unharmed, calling emergency services, and so on (we’ll get to that in a minute). Everything else can be dealt with after safety is guaranteed. As mentioned in Part I, this is the time to Ensure, Prevent, Assure and Correct.
· Ensure: Ensure that employees and customers are safe.
· Prevent: Prevent (further) destruction of people’s and the company’s property.
· Assure: Assure the public that the company can still function and help them with their needs.
· Correct: Correct any problems and prevent new ones.
Once the highest authority and, hopefully, most credible employee has guaranteed the safety of people and called emergency services (who will tend to any injured and help secure a site thereby preventing additional property damage), it’s time to contact headquarters and the top people on your crisis communications plan’s call sheet in order to put the plan into operation. This is also the time to step back from the situation and let emergency services do their job. While the news media might be on the scene clamoring for information, you need to remain in charge and not provide information until you have the chance to speak with the company’s executives.
Once the crisis team has analyzed the situation, remembering to take the delicate emotions of employees and customers into consideration, it’s time to provide information to the public, while at the same time protecting the flow of information in order to contain rumors, speculation, and untruths. Timely and truthful information is essential, especially in order to prevent the news media from trying to find their news through other sources, including employees, other news outlets or eyewitnesses. Any information provided must answer the basic “who, what, where, when, why and how” of the situation, even if it’s bad news. Think about what the press and public will want to know:
· Who was responsible, and who was affected?
· What happened, what was the cause, and what went wrong?
· When did it happen, and are there injuries?
· How much damage occurred, how much will the damage cost, and is it possible for more damage to occur?
· What does the company plan to do about it?
· When will more information be available?
Don’t forget to have the crisis team coordinate with its employees, vendors and clients and decide what will be necessary in order to keep the company running while it sorts through this. Business needs to be resumed as soon as possible. Keep all necessary parties informed throughout the process.
As always, make sure the designated spokesperson is confident, trustworthy, clear, concise, and stays on message. Once the emergency begins to subside, the spokesperson’s role can be given to another person with authority and credibility. At no point and time should anyone else speak about the situation, unless they’re assigned the task. It’s ok to disclose mistakes, legal problems, or bad news, just be honest about it. The public will talk for a while, but they’ll also be forgiving if you are straight-forward with them from the start; and you’ll ultimately survive the beating all at once instead of dragging it out.
A reputation can be made as fast as it can be lost, so try to make it a good one – and keep it that way.