by Jen Bulotti, Stryker-Munley Group Sacramento
Lucky you! Your company has made Monday morning headlines! But oops, not the way you intended.
What is your next, first, best step given the circumstances? Who are your first “go to” resources? First and foremost, DO YOU HAVE A PLAN? If not, qualifying whether your issue is worthy of bringing in outside resources should be your first concern. Who you engage and how you determine to respond in those first 72 hours is what matters most to protect, and hopefully promote, your brand.
If you don’t believe us that even the smallest wrong decision, mistake or accident, can happen, read this: PR Week’s Most Read Crisis Stories in 2017.
Most companies don’t know when to hire a public relations professional or firm because they typically aren’t sure they need one on an ongoing basis, or they have not identified potential opportunities for a crisis.
Weighing out the benefits of engaging a PR firm during “good times” will most likely be covered in a future SMG blog, but for now, let’s talk about the crisis at hand.
WHAT IS A CRISIS?
A crisis in the PR world is defined as an incident, or series of incidents that threatens the safety, security and/or reputation of a company and its staff, clients or partners. If you don’t have a checklist for what your company would consider a crisis and steps to take, then shame on you. Your brand may pay the ultimate price.
Should We Call in a PR Pro, or Can We Handle This Ourselves?
Let’s say you don’t have a PR plan, let alone a crisis plan. At the very top level, when your brand’s reputation is at risk when someone in relation to your company is being attacked, or when the media has become involved are pretty solid qualifications to call in a professional. At Stryker-Munley Group every office around the country has successfully helped to manage some of the worst crisis nightmares for clients. Greater success has always come from being ahead of the story, in a trusting client-agency relationship.
Job 1. Create an A+ Crisis Communications Team and Plan.
Right now, seek out the support of an experienced PR firm. Much like your legal and financial consultants, PR pros should be key players on your strategic team. Here are a few steps to building an A+ team and plan:
- Plan Ahead: Prepare a plan in advance to determine company messaging, your key audiences, top leaders/spokespersons and communications protocols; Key to this is to identify risks, potential opportunities and challenges, and a few key trusted partners
- Engage in Key Issues: Be active in key issues that may impact your industry and business; This includes staying engaged with media outlets and reporters likely to cover the issue
- Assess the Potential Damage: Consider the potential impacts (and reach) of the crisis to determine possible escalation and how to best finalize and roll out messaging to your key audiences quickly and accurately
- Create Key Messages and a Strong Public Statement: Prepare a solid statement in advance so it can be quickly updated with the details
- Train and Name the Core Crisis Management Team: Assign a key lead spokesperson and a few key team members to represent the company; Train the core crisis team on likely scenarios and responses, and create a meeting location or real-time collaborative platform for immediate, in-person engagement and processing
- Create Platforms to Present Information: Set up a microsite or specific landing pages, digital assets and email platforms so they are ready to go to provide accurate and timely info to the media, key stakeholders and those impacted
- Ensure Availability: Make sure the top 2-3 team members are available and briefed at all times
- Convey “Just the Facts” in a Timely Way: It is OK to say, “This is all the information we have at the moment,” rather than speculating on the issue, next steps or potential future hazards; Always be truthful and let the media and stakeholders know when you will be checking back
- Document Well: Keep a record of the ongoing communications, key decisions, contacts, and materials; Plan who receives information and maintain cleanly labeled and marked versions of documents so there are no mix-ups in the information that is shared
It’s All About the Messaging.
Effective and targeted messaging is critical in the event of a crisis. Maintaining strong ongoing relationships with the media, and communicating the issue and compassion for those impacted, the timeline for fixing it, and suggestions for protecting target audiences now and in the future are key first steps.