There is nothing that a company dreads more than negative press, particularly when it involves story lines that quickly spiral out of control and into a public relations disaster.
No company is perfect, however. No matter how ethical and careful you are, at some point your company is going to do something that it should not have done, or be in a situation it did not want to be in, and sometimes that it going to make news.
Finding yourself in such a situation is never easy, but there are certain things you can do in your public relations efforts to keep the damage to a minimum. Below are 10 key things to keep in mind to make sure you are engaging in effective crisis communications.
1) Be proactive. You should already have a PR strategy in place for dealing with any type of PR situation. If not, you should develop one now, and certainly do so as soon as you see trouble on the horizon. It is always good to know exactly what you are going to say to the press when they call, and even better if you can be the first one to make contact through a phone call or news release.
2) Understand that you have multiple audiences. Just because the news media is not interested doesn't mean you don't have PR work to do. Your employees and shareholders are just as important target audiences as the general public.
3) Never simply say, "No comment." This always makes you look like the bad guy. If you can't comment because you are looking into something, say you are looking into it and will get back with them later. If you have a policy of not commenting on pending litigation, say you can't comment because of that policy.
4) Don't treat journalists as the enemy. Love them or hate them, their job is to ask questions on behalf of their audiences. Regardless of their attitude, treat them as if they are a concerned customer who is simply asking questions they feel are important. If you get angry at a journalist, the public will never see how they treated you, only how you reacted.
5) Give a timely response. This not only helps you be perceived as being in control, but it also ensures that your side of the story gets out. Every story has a life cycle. If you respond after the news media already considers the story dead, they will not do another story with your response. You will have missed an opportunity to tell your side of the story.
6) Determine your position and demeanor. Just because you are right, doesn't mean you should be defiant. Depending on your circumstances, your position may need to be that you did nothing wrong, but that you are still empathetic to the situation. Knowing both your position and the demeanor you are going to have while taking it will keep all of your communications consistent.
7) Be truthful. Mistakes are often forgiven. Liars almost never are.
8) Admit mistakes, their consequences and what you are going to do to make the situation right. Again, people tolerate mistakes if they know that people are genuinely apologetic and trying to fix them.
9) Fix the situation. If you are doing something wrong, work to rectify the situation. Other than lying, there is almost nothing worse in the minds of the public than someone who didn't care enough about the problem to do something about it.
10) Develop a strategy for following up. As corrective actions are taken, it is time for you to go on the offensive with your PR strategy and let people know that things are better. Do not expect the press or public to follow up with you. The ball is now in your court.
Negative press is regrettable, but it does happen. How you deal with the challenge will have a major impact on how you are perceived moving forward.