6 Tips for Managing a Public Relations CrisisPublish Date: Oct 20, 2009
At some point or another, many companies find themselves dealing with a public relations crisis. Perhaps rumors of a scandal hit the media, or a disgruntled competitor or customer decided to wage an attack on your client. As the PR person, it is your job to manage the crisis in the best possible way. This means being professional and composed, while retaining or regaining the most positive image possible for your client. Of course, sometimes that is far easier said than done! Following are some tips to follow for dealing with a PR crisis, including how to avoid one in the first place.
It's a lot easier to take the steps to prevent a fire in the first place than to put it out once it happens.
1) Anticipate and prepare for crises in advance
This is probably the most important tip to remember. Just like the old saying, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It's a lot easier to take the steps to prevent a fire in the first place than to put it out once it happens. This is definitely true when it comes to public relations. No company or individual is perfect; it is your job to spot potential areas of weakness which may be grounds for criticism or attack at some point. You need to have a strategy in place to protect your client's image should it get tarnished unexpectedly. While you can't anticipate every possible scenario you at least won't be scrambling should a crisis hit. Generic media materials can be prepared and then quickly tailored if needed. Preparation will allow you to achieve the best possible outcome if a crisis does occur.
2) Get all the facts
As soon as anything happens be sure to get as much factual information as you can from wherever you can. Then decide, with legal counsel if needed, what facts should be disclosed and which should not. A strategy based on faulty or incorrect information can lead to more harm than good.
3) Don't take the "No comment" stance
This is probably one of the biggest PR mistakes often made. By not communicating, you may give the impression that your client has something to hide. Also, others will "fill in the gaps" with speculation, which is rarely favorable when you are silent. Worst of all, the media will seek comments from other sources, which may result in further damage.
4) Project confidence, competence, sincerity, and caring
People are often much more forgiving and supportive if they perceive you to be sincere and truly caring. It's crucial that you show sympathy, caring and compassion to anyone who has been adversely affected by the situation. Without that, you may wind up doing more harm as you will be perceived in an even more negative light.
Also, by coming across as confident and competent, people will feel a sense of comfort and trust that the situation is being handled in the best possible way. Without this, those who have something at stake are likely to feel quite anxious about the outcome. You want them to trust that your client will do the right thing and get through the situation just fine.
5) Honesty is best
As the PR person, you want to be sure to provide the public and/or the media with truthful information. Lies tend to get discovered at some point, and if you aren't honest, you will damage or even destroy the credibility of your client down the road. This being said, you don't need to immediately reveal information that is not being requested, particularly if it may harm your client's image. Respond as honestly as you can to the questions asked based on the information you have. For questions you can't answer, be honest in saying so and promise to get some answers as soon as possible.
6) Be consistent
Be sure that whatever information you provide is consistent. Contradictions or discrepancies will be noticed, and will just foster further negative press. Remember, much of what you say will be recorded in one form or another, so be sure that you don't pave the way for someone in the media to exploit it.
Ultimately, preparation and integrity are the best weapons when a public relations crisis occurs. Your client's image is at stake, and how you handle that crisis as the PR person will play a significant role in whether that image is strengthened or diminished.