Plan, Plan and Plan Some More
Your firm can make or break its reputation not when everything is going smoothly, but when things get tough. That’s especially true when faced with negative news coverage, but also in the face of bad online reviews or comments on social media. According to Inc. Magazine, 84 percent of people trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation, making, online forums and social platforms a powerful source of information for consumers. This means a proactive approach to supporting your brand reputation is more important than ever.
Whether you’re facing viral media coverage around an unfortunate incident or an unhappy client comment on social media, a well-led public relations team will be your compass in the storm. When you’re actively managing your brand reputation, you are better equipped to tackle issues the very moment they arise. No one firm will ever be immune, so make sure your team is ready to handle bad press before it finds you with these four tips.
Devise a Plan
The best time to prepare for a crisis is before the crisis. That’s why the creation of a crisis communications plan should be the first thing on your to-do list. A crisis communications plan is the difference between being the fire station or the house catching fire when bad news strikes. This critical, living document outlines communication and response procedures for a crisis situation, whether that’s negative media coverage or responding to a storm of client complaints. It establishes a spokesperson, identifies who needs to be part of the communications or approval process, and provides an action plan to address all aspects of media, to include mass media (TV/radio/newspaper), social media (Facebook/Twitter/Instagram, etc.) and review websites (Google/Yelp). Without this roadmap, your firm will be prone to mistakes, missteps or miscommunication at the most sensitive time. However, with an effective response strategy, negative press can be managed, mitigated and oftentimes contained before it ever gets out of hand.
Timing is Everything
Timing is everything in a crisis and that’s especially true today. In today’s digital world, the moment you open your mouth for an interview or post a reply to an online comment, your words can potentially travel around the globe within moments. You often need to act quickly, but in a coordinated fashion. That’s where your crisis communications plan comes into play.
Before anyone responds, quickly gather your public relations team together for a quick assessment of the situation and review your crisis communications plan. Identify what level of response is required, designate who should communicate to which audience and then move forward quickly with a coordinated response. You’ll want to ensure what you’re saying to the media aligns with what’s being said on social or being told directly to clients who call in with questions. Take a breath and ensure your message is aligned with your firm’s crisis plan, your values and the situation at hand, but don’t wait too long. While you want to respond carefully, realize that the longer the void the more others will shape your story for you.
“No Comment” is a No-no
As recent high-profile litigation cases have shown, uttering the phrase “no comment” is equivalent to “guilty as charged” from a public relations standpoint, and can generate more media attention than the 2019 Capital One data breach.
This is another example of why the crisis communications plan is so vital. Developing an outline of key scenarios and responses beforehand will be crucial to have when a crisis occurs. The best approach for online commentary is to try and move the conversation offline. However, providing a simple response first to let a client know they’ve been heard can go a long way for your brand reputation. If you’re facing media questions, your spokesperson should always be prepared to share a concise statement at the very minimum to say you are aware of the situation and a resolution is underway. Even if you’re not ready with all the facts, crafting a short one-liner is much better than no comment at all. Plus, it will save you from nervously sharing some long-winded technical jargon response that will only pummel you with more questions you’re not ready to answer.
On that same note, you never want anyone outside of your primary communications team to say something completely incorrect, or worse start answering questions they are not at liberty to answer. Be sure to distribute a brief guideline for the entire firm that will help direct media questions to the appropriate person. It’s also important to realize you have that internal audience as well who needs to hear that you are addressing an issue.
Analyze Before You Finalize
For some firms, once the dust settles it’s 1, 2, 3…break. WAIT! Although dealing with a public crisis is stressful, and the mere act of survival may be enough for you to give out a round of high fives and call it a day, take some time to reflect before your team resumes regularly scheduled programming.
Gather your team for a round of Q&A over lunch. Think about what your team could have done differently, or better. Could the situation have been avoided or resolved sooner? If so, how can you adjust your process for the future? In the next few weeks and months ahead, what positive stories can you share that will help you rise from the ashes? Once you’ve hashed out all the details, grab that precious crisis communications plan of yours and get your team prepared for the next crisis. You never know when it will ignite.