One of the great questions any public relations agency must ponder is whether to get into the world of crisis communications. You know, the really dirty and hard stuff. Not as a hard as Scandal and not nearly as dirty as the new PR show, Flack. But, definitely not the run-of-the-mill stuff that PR folks tend to do. It is a tough job, and it is a job that literally changes day-by-day.
The old rules of how to handle a crisis situation from a PR standpoint are likely over. Even, many of the news rules that we etched in gigabytes in the social media age are crashing apart. A crisis one day may not be a crisis the next. The overnight crisis may vanish by noon as something bigger arrives on the scene. Or the crisis you thought would not happen became something much larger.
How do you then prepare for a crisis situation in the modern age? Here are five tips to remember.
1. Hope is not a plan. Because of less and less traditional media, and even less people acting as watchdogs, many PR folks look at a potential crisis and assume it will just never surface. This is not a good plan.
2. The truth that people want to believe will win many battles, but actual truth wins a war. The recent case of actor Jussie Smollett bounced around for a weeks in that first sentence. Many people wanted to believe it and they staked their names on it. That includes several people who are running for president. However, as Smollett’s story began sending spidering cracks along the glass menagerie of its web, many people turned on Smollett. A lesson, though, while his career is essentially over, the people who threw in their support go on.
3. Social media is the battleground. A friend asked me the other day why the media will push one story over another. I answered truthfully, it’s not the media really driving the agenda. It’s social media. Stories get reported all the time, but who and how they run the social media gauntlet is the test. For example, which of these stories do you recognize from your own recent social media world: Zion Williamson’s Nike-Knee blowout; a Coast Guard officer planning to kill key Democrats; Coventry School students in Washington, D.C.; a man arrested for planning to attack the White House? They all happened. They all were on the major networks. Not all of them caught fire on social media.
4. Be succinct. This is not the time to rewrite War & Peace. You have to keep things down to easy to digest messages.
5. Being proactive still helps. Building a strong brand name and cultural cache through public relations will always be helpful. There are still people who think Bill Cosby is a great guy because he spent 40 years in the public eye cultivating an image. The best way to avoid a crisis is avoid them. The second best is to be so respected that the average person will give you the benefit of the doubt.
Finally, dealing with the public is similar to the old baseball adage from the legendary Casey Stengel when asked about the key to being a good manager. He said, “The secret of managing is to keep the folks who hate you away from the ones who haven’t made up their minds yet.”