Without a Plan, PR Can Only Make Your Crisis Less Bad

May 09, 2018 Beth Monaghan

If you’re in business, you need a crisis communications plan. In a year that feels like scandal is the norm, businesses are facing intense scrutiny. Investigative journalism has made a dramatic resurgence. At InkHouse, we’ve never handled more client crisis scenarios than we have this past year -- especially in the last six months.

This year has been marked by high-profile cases involving data privacy, racial and gender inequality, #MeToo, and hacks, among others. With so many ways to hold organizations accountable, disgruntled employees can easily turn into citizen journalists and off-the-record sources. Add in the virality of social media and bots that hijack trending hashtags, and a small issue can get blown out of proportion within minutes -- all before the facts are known.

Once a crisis has caught you unprepared, PR can help, but in those cases, we’re only going to be able to make the situations slightly less bad. When you’re caught reactive, you’re on the defensive, and you’ll be gulping for air in between fending off attacks. However, when you’re prepared you can be responsive and even proactive to keep your reputation intact.

Reputation is not something you can begin building the day a crisis hits. There are no magic tricks in a crisis -- no PR tactic, no well-placed media phone call, no legal maneuver that can make it all go away. However, a good reputation that’s been intentionally built over time can help an organization weather the toughest crisis. That’s where a good corporate social responsibility program comes in, one that’s anchored to your organization’s values.

Crisis PR can feel like the Wild West these days because many of the situations are unprecedented. We’re counseling vastly different approaches based on each scenario, but here are a few of the big things you should consider:

  • Is this a one-day story? Today, news cycles are less than 24 hours. Some crises can be waited out. Others will only get worse the longer you wait. Are you sitting on information you know is going to come out anyway? Or is the whole truth already out there?
  • The news media is judge and jury. You may not have time to conduct a thorough investigation. Once the news story appears, the judgment has been made. Speed of response is critical.
  • Social media is the battlefield. Citizen journalists can become movement leaders overnight, and social media is where like-minded advocates gather. You must engage there too. Are your crisis statements clear and short enough for social? Do you have the right monitoring tools and staff?
  • Delay tactics look like guilt. Can you respond within 15 minutes? Do you know how to reach the people you need for approval? A good process makes decision-making efficient.
  • Your employees are potential sources. Do your employees know the protocols for inquiries from the press? Do they know that they can’t go on background after they’ve had a conversation?
  • You need a human response, not a legal one. A bland corporate tone looks defensive. If you’re trying to convey an open and transparent intention to solving your crisis, your tone should match it.
  • Who are your defenders? There is strength in numbers, but there’s also credibility in well-respected defenders. Who are yours and how will you reach them quickly?
  • How will you solve your crisis? The solution must be measurable, and it must happen when you say it will. The press will remember and they’ll be checking back, often.

If you have a comprehensive crisis communications plan in place, you’ll be able to respond well even in the midst of the emotional turmoil that surrounds all crises. It’s an in-depth process, but it pays off in the long-term by giving your reputation a fighting chance.

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Topics: Public Relations, crisis management, InkHouse Strategies
Beth Monaghan

Since the early days working around her kitchen table, Beth has grown Inkhouse into one of the top independent PR agencies in the country. She’s been named a Top Woman in PR by PR News, a Top 25 Innovator by PRovoke, and an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year finalist. Beth designed Inkhouse’s signature Storytelling Workshop to mirror the literary hero’s journey and to unearth the emotional connections that bind an audience to a brand or idea. She also uses narratives to build Inkhouse’s culture, most recently through two books of employee essays, “Hindsight 2020” and “Aren’t We Lucky?”

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