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So you come into work one bright sunny Friday, sit down and enjoy the first sip of your iced skinny vanilla latte, and Bam! CNN is on the phone wanting to know if the company has a statement about the arrest of the CFO on money laundering charges. You may find yourself wishing that the actual building was on fire, not just the PR department, because it just went up in flames. I hope you didn’t have big plans for the weekend.
Crises like these are a fact of life for PR Professionals. Maybe your brand isn’t large enough to attract the attention of CNN, but bad news happens, sometimes suddenly, to companies of all sizes and it’s your responsibility to stay prepared. Here are a few best practices.
Best Defense? Don’t Be There.
Ah, I miss Mr. Miyagi. Obviously, there are lots of PR fires that can’t be avoided. Natural disasters, workplace violence, untimely deaths and other things happen out of the blue. But there are some PR problems that can be avoided or mitigated if handled properly early on. If there are poor financials to report, a product recall, departing executives, or an adverse legal finding, PR teams can help keep the damage limited by getting out ahead of the story, planning an ongoing response, and looking for offsetting good news.
Have a Clear Plan
The best way to handle the situations that you could never have anticipated is to have a solid crisis management plan in place. You should cover:
What: How will you know that the crisis has happened? Do you have effective PR monitoring in place so that you will know about the situation right away?
Who: Who is responsible for each part of the response? Who will lead the reaction and make the final decision on key matters? Which executives will be speaking on behalf of the organization?
Where: Be sure to have all of the information and assets you’ll need organized and in place. It should be easy to get to your press release template, background information, social media credentials, and emergency contact list.
How: How will your team communicate with each other, members of the executive team and the rest of the organization? Do you have a good way to spin up a conference call or video chat right away?
Have a Fire Drill
It is a good idea to think through the likely worst case scenarios for your company. Depending on the type of business you are in, some situations are more likely to occur than others. If you are in the restaurant business, for example, you should practice your response to the outbreak of a food-borne illness. (Just ask Chipotle.) If your team includes high profile individuals, strategize about your team would respond if they were arrested, indicted, fired, or dead.
If you are in the business of PR for any length of time, you will eventually have your morning coffee ruined (or worse, your hot date) at one point or another. Setting a good foundation for crisis management is like having a fire extinguisher on hand. It won’t keep the building from sustaining damage every time, but it may very well help you get out alive.