When most small companies think about public relations, they focus on good publicity, those stories that show your company in a positive light. But there’s a flip side to that coin. If your company experiences some sort of crisis, expect the media to show up on your doorstep with questions.
A public relations crisis is any situation that threatens the integrity or reputation of your company, usually brought on by adverse or negative media attention. These situations can be any kind of legal dispute, theft, accident, fire, flood or manmade disaster that could be attributed to your company. It could be some type of incident involving an employee. It can also be a situation where in the eyes of the media or general public your company did not react to one of the above situations in the appropriate manner.
How a company responds to these types of situations can make or break them. And although no business knows what kinds of crisis may befall them, there are some basic steps that companies can follow to help them handle a crisis situation.
Designate a crisis communication team and spokesperson
A small team of senior executives should be identified to serve as your organization’s Crisis Communications Team. Ideally, the organization’s CEO will lead the team, with the firm’s top marketing or public relations executive and legal counsel as his or her chief advisers. One individual from this group should be designated as the primary spokesperson to represent the company, make official statements and answer media questions throughout the crisis.
Investigate and gather the facts
When something happens, companies may feel pressured to make some kind of statement right away but that is rarely the best method. Gather the facts, analyze the facts, and understand the nuances. Make sure your information is gathered from reliable sources. In many cases it’s better to intentionally slow the pace of the story rather than release an ill-considered statement, since having to retract information is almost always a credibility killer. However, if you wait too long to communicate, you lose your greatest opportunity to control events. A simple interim statement with some basic facts can be released, while taking the time to investigate the incident further before making a full statement. An example of an interim statement might be: “An accident occurred today at 3:00pm at the Stanley Widget Factory on 100 Main Street. The incident is under investigation and more information is forthcoming.”
Tell the truth
Once you’ve done your research and understand what has occurred, release a statement to the media. While it may be legally prudent to not say anything, that kind of reaction can land a company in “hot water” with the public, which may be more damaging than any potential legal action.
Tell the truth. Honesty is not just an ethical issue; telling the truth is a savvy business strategy.
If the truth is tough to swallow, develop strategies for making it more palatable – but do not change the facts. Don’t list dozens of possibilities for what might have happened. Don’t make excuses. Don’t point fingers. Own the responsibility for finding out what happened and fixing the problem – even if it turns out not to be your company’s fault.
Remember, in a crisis, you only get one opportunity to get things right. The future of your good company could be determined on how you handle a bad situation.