We received the following email which led to our special issue on crisis management:
Our company recently ran into trouble and I am afraid we will really hurt our reputation if we just ignore the problem. What should we do? And is this a job for professionals only?
Caught in the Act.
Thanks for writing in and spilling your guts. In order to really give you a fully useful answer I would have to know more about your situation. But let me say this succinctly can clearly — This is a job for professionals only. You got yourself into this mess so your credibility is about knee high to a grasshopper. In other words DON’T do this at home! A public relations firm experienced and successful at crisis management can get in there and help you handle the damage and get your reputation restored (more about that below). But there are a few things you can do and should not do from your side to help pave the way (see DIY Below). Here’s a tight rundown thanks to KJ on handling your issues. Consider this the JoTo Guide to Crisis Management…
JoTo MoJo: What is crisis management?
KJ: It’s where you or your company get into a crisis that has to be managed, damage mitigated for the good of all concerned. Many times, millions of dollars are at stake, people’s jobs, etc. Your business life is on the line and you don’t want to go on life-support. Crisis Management is like open-heart surgery – don’t try to do it yourself. Many times people are too close to the situation to do a good job, they blunder and make mistakes that on top of an earlier screw up just fuels the fire.
JoTo MoJo: Should you try and do this in-house and why you should not attempt it?
KJ: DO NOT. Because people defensively do stupid things – it’s human nature – crisis management rules are pretty much the polar opposite of what human nature wants to do in situations like these. There are certain laws and rules that you follow in crisis management that if done properly will not only get you out of the crisis, but get you out even bigger, stronger and better than before.
JoTo MoJo: How do you go about finding a crisis management PR firm?
KJ: The web is a good tool, but the best way is to contact your attorney firm – you SHOULD have a business attorney available even if you don’t you need one. I am not promoting for attorneys here – it is just a fact that it is a litigious society and one needs to have a trusted and proven attorney that you can turn to when needed – for preventative protection and for offensive protection – note: I never say defensive – defensive implies that you have something to be sorry about. Most attorney firms will know good PR firms that handle crises – ones that they work with closely for their clients’ best interest. Our crisis management clients most always come from attorneys that know us and what we can do. A good crisis management campaign works closely with legal to ensure that your message is communicated correctly BUT also will enhance your PR. There is a fine line here and it must be navigated well with professionals with track records in this arena.
JoTo MoJo: How do you go about selecting a crisis management PR firm?
KJ: Have they worked on similar crisis management cycles? If not, what expertise do they have that makes them able to work on yours? They do not have to have experience in the same industry – not if they are worth their salt because they will bone-up on what they have to, to understand your business – just like any good attorney. Are they able to handle the media? How do they handle the media? This is key – they have to have quite a bit of skill on these lines – the media will want their story, but it may not be in the best interest of the client to grant a story yet – especially if there is a legal suit going on. Another key point is what are they going to do to flank your crisis management campaign to generate goodwill in your industry/community? Fighting battles are only one aspect to winning a crisis management war – you have to create strong allies FAST, a sea of goodwill needs to be generated that does NOT deter from the crisis you are handling. This is typically where people do stupid stuff – companies err on getting so involved in handling the attacks and upset generated from the crisis, that they create major faux pas – even some PRs that hate confrontation will mess up….and all that means is that it’s just not their forte…find someone whose it is. Crisis management training is intense and it is not for the faint hearted.
You cannot ask who their clients have been in this arena – most cannot tell you unless it was highly publicized that they were the PR agency of record for the company in trouble. Most companies will not want anyone to know. The best crisis management campaign – the most successful – is the one you never hear about.
And don’t always look for a pit-bull. Sometimes the most disarming people are ones that can be the most gracious – but you want a good balance of the ability to use intelligence…. and force, when needed. There’s always room for a good fight – when the cause is worthy.
JoTo MoJo: Should you talk to the media if they call with questions?
KJ: NO. What you should do is get on the phone and let them know that you are happy to talk to them but you have a meeting to go into (which you now will because you will need to consult with the pros that you hired) and would like to call them right back – find out their deadline, get their name and number, the publication/station they are with and preferably their email address. Then call your PR Firm – and your attorney.
JoTo MoJo: What do you advise a client who has a crisis on their hands?
KJ: The biggest thing I see CEOs and companies do is think they can handle it on their own. They stick their head in the sand and do not confront the situation..until it is almost too late and they have lost revenues. Remember this as a CEO – your #1 job is to keep the SHIP going, producing at high speed and expanding. Your job is NOT to get all involved with a crisis and forget that #1 role – the BEST protection to any attacks is just to keep expanding, doing better and continuing to be the best at what you do. The pros that you hire to handle the crisis will and SHOULD help you do just that – otherwise your sales will drop, your marketing will suffer and your bottom line will eventually crash – which will make you less able to weather the storm.
JoTo MoJo: Anything else you can think of?
KJ: Yeah – preventative PR goes a long way in mitigating crises quickly – there are actually 10 steps a company should take to be prepared for something of this nature – those preparations can mean the difference in emerging better and stronger to going down the tubes in flames. Plus – a well-drilled and prepared SHIP rarely gets into danger – so why not be prepared? You usually won’t run the risk of getting attacked or in trouble. But if you do, don’t delay in getting it handled with pros.