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Every business has the potential to have a PR crisis at some time in its existence. A crisis can be defined many ways but for purposes of this article, let’s just say it’s an abnormal occurrence that generates media interest.
Two national examples that qualify are the recent United Airlines case of a paying passenger being dragged out of the seat he paid for to make room for a United employee; or Wells Fargo getting caught selling services to their customers that they didn’t want or need and in some cases were not aware they had purchased.
Why is it, then, that even the largest companies that can afford the most expensive and experienced professional advice sometimes still manage to make matters worse?
Like the CEO of United seeming to blame the guy who they dragged off their plane for causing the crisis when the video was clear he did not. Or, my favorite, the CEO (now ex-CEO) of Wells Fargo trying to explain the systematic cheating of their customers by saying it was the fault of overzealous lower level managers when there was plenty of evidence that the program was driven from the top.
Here are a few things you should keep in mind if something happens in your organization.
THE FIRST INFORMATION YOU GET, IS ALMOST ALWAYS WRONG.
In a crisis the facts are usually reported up the normal chain of command. In the best of times passing information this way is unreliable but when the news is bad and fear is added to the equation the information often morphs into something that barely resembles what actually happened. Make sure you get the story from the person who is closest to it. If there is no one reliable you can reach, get someone there who is reliable and have them get the facts first hand.
TAKE YOUR TIME
The most difficult reporter must accept “I don’t have the details yet” or “we are working with the authorities to get the facts” as an answer. It’s OK to prepare a statement that simply says that we are aware of the XYZ situation and are working with authorities to determine exactly what occurred. If there was an injury, express empathy with a comment that our first concern is for those involved. Tell the reporter that you will get back to them when you have the information…then do it. On social media, track it for a little while to see if it is gaining traction while you get the facts.
ONCE YOU HAVE THE FACTS ISSUE A STATEMENT AND BEGIN RESPONDING ON SOCIAL MEDIA. TELL THE TRUTH.
“No comment” is interpreted by everyone, except the idiot who says it, that you did something wrong and you don’t want to talk about it. It essentially abdicates any opportunity to set the record straight. Don’t ever use it.
Issue a statement that explains what happened and what is being done to correct it. If it was an accident say so; if it was poor judgement, say so without blaming yourself or your people; if it was a bad policy, don’t blame the troops. Respond to every comment on social media, no matter how mean spirited. Yes, it’s a big job but not responding is the social media equivalent of “no comment”.
RESIST THE IMPULSE TO CORRECT MEDIA STORIES WHEN THEY GET IT WRONG
The media will inevitably get some facts wrong in the story. Unless the bad reporting has legal implications or financial impact, i.e. they say you are closed for business when you are not, do not call them back to correct them. The reason is simple, you want this to go away as fast as possible and calling to correct something simply brings more attention and possibly another story.
Your goal is to manage the story as much as possible to keep the exposure down and make it go away as fast as possible. These simple tips will help do that. Unfortunately, they are learned from first-hand experience.