Most days, we trust, things go well on the job, in business, at the firm. But there can come a day of disaster. It's likely to catch you unaware, or unprepared, and can all too easily stimulate a panic response. Not at all good, we all understand that. But what can be done to head off PR "panic days"?
Barbara Friday Schenck has a helpful post on heading off PR disasters, though she calls it "Surviving a PR Nightmare." The point, of course, is to stay awake and avoid a "nightmare" in the first place. Anyhow, she provides a list of behaviors businesses need to avoid to stay in command of their reputations, from a lapse in social responsibility to product failures or malfunctions, natural disasters, and accidents. The first defense is to have a current, shared, and well-respected code of corporate conduct, along with a crisis communication plan that's honed in regular drills.
She expressly adds "identify worst-case scenarios," and this, indeed, can be included in crisis communication scenarios and drills.
The reality of crisis response these days, compared to when media outlets were the first to learn of your mishap and then muster for a response -- an interval, sometimes, of a couple of hours -- is that today's crises, spurred by social media, can break around your head. You've got to be ready to think honestly and responsively on your feet. The first step, she notes, is to learn quickly what happened and be honest about it.
"Never try to sweep what are euphemistically called “transgressions” under the carpet," she counsels, "and never underestimate the scope of the problem. Instead, immediately use the same media that are spreading the bad news and sincerely take responsibility, clearly communicating that you’re putting customers’ or the public’s welfare first while working on solutions that address the problem."
This means developing capacity for responding on social media, like Twitter and Facebook, as well as through the traditional media, over the phone and in person. Small companies as well as large need to be mindful of these imperatives and find ways to abide with them. If, however, you prepare well for PR panic days, you're less likely to have them, and to be thriving in the meantime -- a measure, indeed, of good management.
Doug Bedell has a background in journalism and PR and is the owner of Resource Relations LLC in Central PA, focusing on organizational and crisis communication. He’s the community manager of SimplyFair.net, a social network on fairness. On the Web, Doug’s at www.ResourceRelations.com. On Twitter, he’s @DougBeetle.
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