1. The role of public relations in crisis communication is to protect your people. Guard against putting team members in the position of answering for the company. The company spokesperson has to be someone with the authority to accept responsibility and enact changes if needed.
2. Always respond to media requests—quickly and thoroughly. The rules of engagement allow reporters to ambush if their interview request is ignored or denied. In crisis communications, you usually don’t get a second chance.
3. Know your interviewer. Research past stories. Dig deep to discover what angles a reporter might uncover in their own research of your organization and the issues involved. Provide members of your strategic management team with examples of past stories, so they understand what the company is facing. Identify patterns and analyze how the reporter might be expected to approach coverage of your organization.
4. Screen the reporter to learn as much as possible about the planned story. The more you know, the better you can determine who should respond, and how. Ask what the story is about, when it is anticipated to run, who else is being included in the coverage and keep them talking as long as you can. Ask what they would like from your organization and how they see your content fitting into the overall story.
5. Train your spokesperson. Prepare them for anticipated questions. Arm them with research and anecdotes ready to illustrate (and prove) their points.
6. Prepare anyone who could be in the line of fire, so they are equipped with enough information to decide whether they want to comment. Offer employees tools for keeping themselves out of the spotlight.
7. Monitor all of the interviews that take place within your organization, so you know what was asked and how the questions were answered.
8. If possible or appropriate, reach out to other entities included in the coverage. Compare their experiences with yours, to get a better idea of the scope of the story.
9. Accept that this will hurt. Investigative journalists don’t usually change their tone. By they time the contact your organization for comment, the story may be mostly written or filmed. The angle of the coverage is nearly impossible to change. Accept that and speak directly to the audience—let them decide what’s right.
10. Get out in front. Be the one to capture the coverage and share it with senior decision-makers. Never learn about it from someone else.
11. Lead. Evaluate what the coverage means to your organization. Who was hurt and how? Respond directly to those constituencies.
12. Set the record straight. Following the story, communicate directly to key audiences. Reach out with email messages, letters and phone calls and online content, including your website, Facebook and Twitter. Incorporate important messages into the advertising campaign and public relations outreach through other media venues. Don’t let misinformation stand!
13. Be prepared for follow up news stories, especially if something runs in print. Television newsrooms may show up next. Have spokespeople prepared to respond. Make them available for the next few days, until the furor dies down.
14. Provide employees with the language and tools they need to explain what happened. Remember they have to communicate to business audiences. But they also need language that they can share with their family and friends when they leave the office. They need to be able to defend themselves and their organization—serving as ambassadors in the community.
15. Boost morale. Recognize that when the organization’s reputation is blackened in the media, it’s a slight on all of the people working there too. Reassure them that they are working for an organization that they can be proud to serve. Take action to make sure that’s true!
16. Look in the mirror. Does your organization need to make changes to address any accusations? Can you do better? public relations, marketing or advertising can overcome operational or ethical lapses. Come clean and clean up if that’s what it takes to address a legitimate claim.
For more information about crisis communication and public relations at Ideopia, call Susan Abramovitz at 513-947-1444.