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Crisis Communications: PR lessons in putting out a fire

When I was growing up I had no idea I would be a fireman (of sorts) one day. Many of us fancied ourselves as journalists, actors and public relations executives. Looking at it now however, I don’t know anyone working in PR who knew when they started that they would be regularly putting out fires when they entered the field. Today, I can say I have been indoctrinated … and I’m a veteran: I put out fires regularly. Truth is a large portion of the work PR Pros do involves PR crisis management.  Here’s what you don’t suspect: most of us enjoy the challenge and the rush of crisis communications, once we discover a way to manage the process.

Of course, you don’t ever want to be in a crisis, but it doesn’t have to be as bad as it sounds.  Over the  years, I have learned a lot about crisis communications and am including my top three that make a PR crisis manageable.

FIRST 3 THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND WHEN CONFRONTING A CRISIS SITUATION:

  1. Take a deep breath: Sounds simple … and yet many cannot achieve it. When a PR crisis comes about the first thing you need to do is: stop. Stop everything and take a couple of deep breaths. Staying calm is essential and the only way to achieve it … is by stopping. If you are calm then the situation can be addressed rationally. Remember everyone on your team is depending on you and if you can’t find a way to remain focused, in addition to irritating everyone around you, you are also prone to make bad decisions which will lead you to eventually lose control of your message going forward. WARNING: You might have to repeat this process more than once.
  1. Check in with your staff: This sounds logical but it isn’t always the case. If you are managing the crisis from afar you might forget about the people who are on the front line dealing with customers. Giving them the tools, information and direction they need allows them to be focused. Giving them no information can lead to an awkward spiral of gossip and misinformation that could further inflame the crisis situation. Also, it’s a good idea to have them track and questions or responses they might be getting on the situation. This is one more vehicle of information and how it can be used.
  1. Investigate what has happened: It might seem logical to get the information from one person who might or might not have been around during the “crisis situation” however, it is important to evaluate the information both internally and externally. Without having information on the whole picture you could be making mistakes on how to address the crisis.

Every situation is different and the PR crisis steps can be complicated, especially when you take into account that you need to move very quickly in a crisis. Remember: aim to get through the first steps within the hour, not days – faster if possible.

 

-Judith Goetz

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