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Finesse Your Way Out of a Crisis
By Humbert Luna, Emerging Insider Communications
When you run a business, there are plenty of crises that can occur. No matter what situation your business gets into, here are some tips on how to finesse your way out of a crisis. It is important, however, to remember that there are some instances in which DIY PR is not the answer. If you’re unsure of how to handle any situation, I recommend that you go to the pros, especially if you’re dealing with a situation that involves the authorities, death, catastrophic damage, financial disaster, etc.
There’s an old adage by Phineas T. Barnum that states, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.” However, in today’s digital age, bad publicity can spread like wildfire and wreak havoc on your business, which is why every business owner should have a crisis plan that outlines the moves you’ll make if and when a crisis strikes.
Business owners should create a plan and make sure to review and change it accordingly. The first and most vital step is to create a plan that provides the framework for what the team is supposed to do when a crisis strikes. Be sure to include the names and contact info of the people who need to be contacted right away, such as the CEO, designated spokesperson and intended audience (employees, customers, investors, etc.).
Before a crisis even hits, I recommend that you start building media relationships so you know who to reach when a crisis strikes. For example, in a crisis I once had to deal with, a journalist from a popular column reached out to me for a comment on a situation that I was unaware of. He stated that he wouldn’t run the story yet provided no one else did, so I told him I’d provide him with an exclusive interview. Because of our existing relationship, I was able to control the message.
When forming your crisis response and plans, there are a few things to include:
- Scenarios. It’s best to think of a few potential scenarios that your company may encounter. Discuss these potential scenarios and even conduct mock media interviews with your team. Create a timeline and let your team know what their role is during a crisis and who they can talk to. It’s also important to have a crisis management team that will be able to meet and brainstorm ways to deal with the crisis at hand.
- Messages. While you’re thinking of these scenarios, include some messages that you want to communicate. Remember a “no comment” statement is still a comment that the media will run with. If you really don’t have a comment, tell the media that you are looking into the issue and will be in touch with any progress. The point is to get something out before the media can start speculating. Write the messages down and remember that they are malleable and dependent on the situation at hand. Keep your messaging consistent, because you don’t want to confuse your audience. Put these out to the media, social networks and your website.
- Apology. Not every crisis will require a public apology, but when a situation calls for one, it is important to show consideration and be attentive to inquiries. An effective response will require a company to be aware of the public’s and media’s perception of your business.
Once you have your messaging and plan in place, you can more easily reach out to your audience when a crisis hits. You’ll want to reach out to your customers first, as they’re the ones who will be most affected. When it comes to the media, be reactionary (wait for them to come to you), transparent and honest. Provide facts and address any major worries or issues.
Hopefully this gets you thinking about your business and the potential pitfalls that may strike and are out of your control. With proper planning, you may just be able to weather any storm that strikes.
Want more advice on crisis communication? Check out another Small Business PR Toolkit article, Tips for Small Businesses on How to Handle a PR Crisis.
Humbert Luna is an Account Manager and Media Strategist at Emerging Insider Communications, a public relations and communications agency specializing in emerging tech in Chicago. In addition to managing public relations efforts for clients, he also oversees internal and external marketing communications, including digital marketing. Over the course of his career he has worked with clients from various industries including entertainment, lifestyle, beauty, and hospitality. Follow @hlunapr.
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