How to keep your cool when a PR crisis heats up

So it’s August and we should all be basking in a heat wave, complaining that it’s too hot in the office and arguing over whose turn it is to do the ice cream run or sit by the fan. And while this summer hasn’t been a complete wash out, I’m sure most of us would appreciate just a little more sunshine before it’s time to pack away the flip flops and sun hats for another year.

Keeping cool in the office when the temperature warms up is however far easier than keeping your cool in a PR crisis. Unsurprisingly, President Donald Trump must be feeling the heat this summer as he remains firmly in the spotlight over a succession of ‘hot’ issues: Firstly, there was the sacking of his controversial comms chief, Anthony Scaramucci after only days in role earlier this month; then this was swiftly followed by some heated discussions with North Korea; and if that wasn’t enough to get Trump hot under the collar, things have now almost reached boiling point as his response to the Charlottesville violence came under fire from his opposing politicians and the media.

Although Trump is well known for his somewhat ‘maverick’ approach to politics and generally seems to keep his cool in the front of the glare of the media spotlight, there is without doubt, a team of communication specialists sweating nervously behind the scenes and frantically planning how best to manage the fallout from his often controversial views.

Now fortunately, it’s unlikely that as a B2B PR agency any of our clients’ PR crises will be subjected to the global media spotlight as is the case with the US President, but no business is immune to a crisis and typically they occur when you least expect it and can come in a variety of forms. For example, perhaps you run a haulage firm and one of your fleet has been involved in a serious collision; or as we saw only recently, the British Airways IT systems failure which caused flight delays and cancellations impact thousands of its customers at great cost and embarrassment to the organisation; or maybe your CEO has put his foot in it and said something in he shouldn’t have in an important media interview.

Crises are difficult to prevent or predict and of course, can range from minor to major in terms of its impact on customers, key stakeholders and staff. Whereas Trump’s team is likely to be very adept at weathering whichever storm comes its way next, most businesses are unlikely to be. At best, many will have business continuity plans in place in the event of a crisis situation which could prevent them operating as normal, however, few are likely to have plans in place for managing their reputation in the event of a serious situation.

Keeping your cool amid a crisis is a challenge, but there are certain steps B2B organisations can take to ensure they keep calm, remain in control and limit any damage:

  1. Be prepared – No-one can predict when a crisis will occur or even if a spokesperson could say something that could get the business into a heap of trouble. However, what you can do is make sure you have a crisis communications plan in place to ensure that everyone in the business is up to speed with how to handle the situation as it unfolds. The plan should include details of how to handle a variety of different crisis situations, a list of all the key spokespeople who can talk to the media and a plan for keeping customers and other key stakeholders informed.
  2. Media training – A business should never under estimate the importance of media training and when a crisis unfolds, it’s worth its weight in gold. Now of course, Donald Trump will undoubtedly have received some very hard core media training during his business career, and even more intensive training in his new position as President. However, no matter how well media trained an important spokesperson is, they can sometimes say the wrong thing leaving your organisation exposed to a backlash. If your spokesperson does say something he or she shouldn’t, or perhaps doesn’t respond appropriately to a situation, it’s here where the comms lead needs to keep their cool, offer advice for handling the fallout and take control of any media enquiries to try and limit any damage.
  3. Include the whole business – So a crisis has occurred and you’re desperately trying to contain the situation and best manage your organisation’s reputation while remaining in control. However, don’t try and keep the situation under wraps and away from the rest of the business. It’s important that they know what is happening and advise them what to do if they are approached by the media.
  4. Be honest – The worst thing any business can do in a crisis situation is to try and cover up the truth. If customers need to be informed, it’s far better for them to hear about what’s happening directly from you rather than see a news headline or hear industry gossip. Also, be honest with the media, if a journalist smells a rat or uncovers the fact that your organisation is hiding something, then your crisis could suddenly take a turn for the worse. It is far better to give as much information as you need to from the outset and to keep lines of communication open with all key stakeholders as the situation unfolds.
  5. Hold your hands up – Any crisis should be handled with care and concern. It’s important that customers or any other stakeholders impacted by what has happened understand that you are extremely sorry and that you are doing all you can to rectify the problem. Make sure that those effected by the situation most are at the forefront of many messages you plan to communicate both internally and externally.

Keeping your cool in a crisis is easier said than done, especially if everyone around you is panicking. However, having a strategy in place and making sure that everyone in the business understands what’s happening and follows the crisis communication’s guidelines, should certainly help take the heat out of the situation even when the most severe of PR crisis occurs.

 

 

 

 

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