International - Written by on Tuesday, April 2, 2013 2:01 - 0 Comments

Avoid making a drama out of a crisis with The Magnificent Seven…tips from David Flynn at Eulogy PR

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It’s Thursday afternoon the day before the bank holiday Easter Weekend.  The phone rings – its the Daily Mail who tell you you’re in crisis and look for comment.  They say they’ve just heard the US DOJ has raided your New York Office and your top sales guy in the UK has been arrested by the City of London Police.

David Flynn an old colleague gives some top tips on what to do from a PR perspective to ensure that you can respond appropriately if you’re ever faced with this unenviable situation.

If you like what you hear – David can be contacted at his email (click on the link) David.Flynn@eulogy.co.uk

By David Flynn at Eulogy PR

All it needs is for the narrative about an incident to be handled badly and it could severely damage a company’s reputation.

So how do you go about managing a ‘crisis’?  Start with my magnificent seven (tips):

1)     Have a plan

The old adage that “failing to prepare means prepare to fail” is particularly relevant to crisis management.  Having correct measures in place not only would minimise the impact of an event, but could actually go a long way from preventing an incident from blowing up into a crisis situation.

Agree who will be on your crisis management team and develop a plan that all involved have read and understand.  Undertake a training session and run through how you’d respond if a crisis occurred.   This is vital as running through a crisis exercise helps you understand where the gaps are in your plan.  One mistake that some companies make is having key mobile numbers to contact people in an emergency situation.  However during 7/7 the police shut down London’s mobile network to prevent any possible bombs being detonated remotely.  In such a situation, how would you contact your team?

2)     Do not underestimate social media

I know of a few examples where companies took little interest in social media, especially Twitter.  Unfortunately because of this they were unaware of users making some serious (and as it turned out unsubstantiated) complaints against them.  Left unchecked, the allegations became entrenched in the public consciousness and even though proven to be untrue, have stuck in the minds of the stakeholders.

Simple monitoring and engagement with the source can prevent some crisis situations from happening.

3)     Build relationships

If the first time you’re speaking to a journalist is when they find out one of your employees has been arrested for fraud, you’ll have little leeway in handling the story.  However if you have a strong relationship with that title, you’ll be in a better position to negotiate how or if, the story is published.  At the very least it will buy you some time.

Look at which media is the most influential to your stakeholders build strong relationships with them.

4)     Check that you are actually in a crisis

Often the key to handling a crisis is knowing you’re in one in the first place.

Clarity is the best skill to have in such a situation.  Remember, a crisis is something that could fundamentally damage your business’ ability to operate well in the future; some people respond to lesser incidents by treating them as crises and making things worse.

The key is to establish the facts as soon as possible and not allow the media narrative to back you in a corner.  Although journalists are desperate for a story, they’re also keen to ensure what they’re writing is (generally) true.  Work with them to manage the story effectively.  Just because someone is telling you you’re in a crisis situation doesn’t mean that you actually are.

5)     Don’t panic

When you feel all around you aren’t keeping their heads, make sure you stay calm.  Very few good decisions are made when in a panic.  In my experience, those who flip out at the first sign of an issue are those who haven’t prepared for it in advance.  If you’re not in control, you won’t be able to manage the situation.

Perception in such instances is important.  If you’re perceived (externally and internally) to be flustered, audiences may assume that things are worse than they are.

6)     Think inwards

Don’t forget to communicate with your staff during a crisis situation.  While minimising reputational risk is important, so is staff morale.  It is also vital that all staff are on message and know how to respond to any media enquiry.  Make sure only official spokespeople engage externally by instructing staff to pass on any calls to the press team without comment.

A crisis completely debunks the myth that “all publicity is good publicity”.  By preparing as much as possible, keeping calm, having a clear crisis response plan and implementing it, there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy the adage “no news is good news”.

7)     Don’t be an ostrich

If you are in a crisis, or know one is about to happen, don’t bury your head in the sand and pretend it will go away.  Deal with it head on, agree the messaging, refer to your crisis plan, and engage with your audiences.  A well managed crisis can actually enhance your reputation rather than destroy it.

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