An essential aspect of any company’s public relations department is to develop and, when necessary, utilize a protocol that will be implemented in the event of an unforeseen PR, social media, or internal crisis. In reality, no perfectly sculpted plan will work efficiently in a crisis. It is imperative that PR departments have precautionary crisis communication plans in place for when they may need it most. Although it may seem daunting, it is wise to approach every campaign or community outreach program with caution. Be prepared for the worst—just in case. When you are prepared, the nightmares of a crisis can be diminished.
Over the past couple of years, public relations professionals have witnessed and learned from the mistakes of past crises (e.g. American Apparel/Gap and Hurricane Sandy, Penn State and the sex scandal, McDonald’s and #McDStories, and Chick-fil-A and homosexuality). As these events become more common, crisis plans are now seen as necessary business strategies to implement. As humans, we learn from our mistakes and try to improve. Hopefully over time, PR practitioners will be able to find their niche in crisis communication. What worked? What didn’t? How can we improve?
Following a guest lecture from Casey Boggs, of LT Public Relations, on crisis communication in my Strategic Social Media course, I’ve learned of various PR tools that are essential during the initial stages of a crisis (1). Boggs told the class of the benefits of exercising the media; proper communication, both internally and externally; social media, and the importance of communicating while listening; and staying in contact with allies and community leaders during a crisis (1).
The primary tool that was emphasized, though, was the company’s staff (1). Boggs said, “The staff is one of the most underutilized—and un-communicated to—PR tools a company has to leverage” (1). With that, he spoke about how it’s essential to know that the internal staff is the company’s brand ambassadors and help to relay many of its messages. It is crucial that staff is aware of the situation, and trained on how to perform, before the media and the public discover the crisis (1).
There are certain things every PR professional must to know before the unforeseen circumstance of having to address a crisis occurs: basic laws, efficient contacts, media outlets, etc (2). In her post, Sara Hawkins of Ragan’s PR Daily suggests,
“In trying to control the public perception during an organizational crisis, possessing some legal knowledge can be the difference between fueling the fire and helping to extinguish it. While there are many different laws, possessing a basic understanding […] will enable you to approach most situations with a more tailored plan” (2).
Hawkins goes on to discuss the importance of understanding the legalities on defamation, employment issues, disclosure, and preservation of data and evidence. Having the basic knowledge of those topics can help you to ease your way towards “the light at the end of the crisis tunnel.” Hawkins initially suggested that if the company you work for is large enough (and can afford it), it might have its own legal department, or representative, on call for situations such as these (2). But that isn’t always the case—that is the exception. It is still your personal responsibility to be prepared, both in knowledge and planning, for this type of PR nightmare.
(1) Boggs, C. (Feb. 27, 2013). Presentation: Crisis Communication Tools for PR. LT Public Relations.
(2) Hawkins, S. (Feb. 26, 2013). 4 laws every PR professional should know for a crisis.
Posted on: http://www.prdaily.com/crisiscommunications/Articles/13914.aspx