Here are seven tips for handling a crisis from Ragan:
1. Get the facts.
To deal with a crisis, you must be fully briefed. If you suspect someone’s holding out on you, gently but firmly explain that whatever they don’t tell you now, reporters will probably find out later. If you’re to deal with the situation then there’s no time like the present to be brutally honest.
2. Sort your spokespeople.
This is Crisis Comms 101. The spokesperson should be senior, so stakeholders know you’re taking the situation seriously; they should be prepared to have their name associated with the crisis and the subsequent statements/interviews; and preferably (becomes “crucially” if there’s a broadcast element) they should be media trained to answer tough questions in front of a camera.
Tip: ABC—answer, bridge, control—is the way to deal with tricky questions. Just listen to politicians to understand how this works: They answer with one word and then bridge to their actual message before delivering it again and again.
3. Coordinate your team.
How many people are on your team? Do they all know who should get the calls when journalists start ringing? Has every person in the company been informed that all calls should be directed to one person/department? Are they aware that a journalist might not identify himself or herself as a journalist?
Make sure they are, because some reporters don’t care who gives them a quote. The people handling the calls should be well briefed and experienced.
4. Stay calm and composed.
Whoever’s handling the calls will probably get difficult, leading questions, which can easily lead to inadvertent, damaging quotes appearing in print if you’re not careful. Get a statement ready, get it approved, and offer it to anyone who contacts you. Do not get into a conversation. Going “off the record” is a myth. You will be quoted as a spokesperson.
Objectively, pancreatic cancer is one of the worst types of cancer someone can get, with a survival rate of only 3 percent.
But when the United Kingdom charity Pancreatic Cancer Action released an ad campaign depicting patients wishing they had other cancers—all with higher survival rates—representatives from other organizations did not take it well.
In one ad, the words “I wish I had breast cancer” are written in a huge font next to pancreatic cancer patient Kerry Harvey’s somber face.
“While the intention of the campaign is great, the adverts are hugely upsetting and incredibly insensitive and divisive,” Dyleth Morgan, chief executive of Breast Cancer Campaign, toldCivilSociety last week.
Chris Askew, chief executive of Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said, “I’ve yet to meet a man or woman with breast cancer who would consider themselves in any way fortunate to have received a diagnosis.”
Writing in The Guardian, Pancreatic Cancer Action Chief Executive Ali Stunt explained that the ad, which the organisation created with the firm Team Darwin, was designed to spark debate.
“With a limited budget, it was vital that the advert would stand out and provoke thought and initiate discussion among members of the public, the media, and influencers,” she wrote. “The decision to run this campaign was not taken lightly, and we carried out a fair amount of research to understand what the likely reaction was going to be.”
Some U.S. executives think that having a high profile in the domestic market automatically guarantees a hero’s welcome when they land on foreign shores. After all, why shouldn’t the image they’ve spent years building in the U.S. magically cross the Atlantic and Pacific, conform to local societies, adapt to local market nuances, and reach out to their targeted constituencies?
Unfortunately, such an attitude leads to thinking that the same PR tactics and strategies that work so well in the U.S. can just be tossed over the fence to be used in other countries. We’ve come to call this mentality “Americanitis.”
2. Resources spread too thin
Companies often find that they don’t have the resources and/or budget to effectively address all the target markets in a given geography.
For example, a company’s European focus might be on the U.K., Germany, France, and Italy. Rather than spread a modest budget across all four markets, it’s better to deploy the budget in one or two countries where you can make a difference.
3. Corporate HQ control
Often, the early funding for a global PR program comes out of the U.S. coffers. It stands to reason that the U.S. public relations people would want some involvement in the international PR activities and how the money is spent.
When the corporate HQ exercises strict control and approval over every single overseas action, an incredible bureaucracy takes hold and handicaps the global PR effort. Just the simple task of approving a news release can turn into a nightmarish saga as suggestions and tweaks ping-pong between HQ and the country office, eating up everyone’s time.
4. Failure to localize content
Localizing content goes beyond the translation of materials. Business issues vary from country to country. Yet many companies aren’t willing to put in the time to localize the storytelling for each target country.
The more effort a company puts into shaping the content to the characteristics of a particular market, the stronger the story becomes. There’s a reason McDonald’s sells a burger with a squid-ink-dyed bun in China.
The way you handle a negative story can make all the difference. Here’s how to respond without fanning the flames of a negative situation:
Do respond. Don’t hide. In many cases, a lack of response will be seen as a validation of the criticisms or, at best, an information vacuum. The sooner the response, the easier it will be to control the situation. Yet a speedy reaction is often difficult. In a high-stakes situation where the facts are unclear, say so, but refute any untruths and pledge to provide supporting information as quickly as possible.
But don’t dignify baseless rumors. One exception to the above is the case of an unsubstantiated rumor, where you risk calling more attention to it by responding. The same is true of an Internet troll. In that case, let the community handle blatant misbehavior, foul language, or abusive comments.
Let your advocates defend you. In that vein, if you have trusted clients or customers willing to comment in your defense, by all means, let them. The essence of reputation is what others say about you in public, so third parties, even those who are not 100 percent objective, are your allies.
Don’t overreact. It’s natural to feel emotional or even use defensive language when attacked, particularly if things get personal. When accused of copying a competitor’s intellectual property, a client drafted a lengthy defense on his website that referred to “slander” and “lies.” We ultimately convinced him that the post might raise more questions than it answered, particularly for site visitors with no knowledge of the situation. If you can’t be objective (and it’s hard when it’s your business), seek objective advice.
Newspaper ads are still the most trusted form of paid media in North America, according to a recent Nielsen survey.
More than half of respondents say they trust traditional advertising platforms such as newspaper, magazine, TV, radio and billboard. However, all new media platforms mentioned in the survey, including search, online video, social media, mobile display and online banners, received a less than 50% trust rating.
The PR industry has for some time incorporated many self-employed consultants, but the pressures on budgets of recent years combined with developments in technology and the growing allure of entrepreneurship have all contributed to a growing interest in independent consultants.
1. Skills. Rather than being forced into freelancing by changes in circumstances, high-performing consultants with confidence in their skills are increasingly going independent in search of a higher income. This has opened up new opportunities for businesses requiring specialists’ skills and experience.
2. Clients and agencies are gravitating towards smaller teams. As well as cutting the cost of meetings and calls, many businesses are seeing value from having a smaller team that can be more focused on their client and develop greater expertise in their particular industry. Independent consultants quickly become the logical next step.
3. Independent consultants can be more nimble than agencies. Whereas an agency team might take anything up to a week to create a press release, an experienced independent consultant can pump one out in a couple of hours which barely needs changing. Speed of delivery can be a significant factor, particularly for high-growth, fast-paced businesses.
The Canadian government is ditching the traditional press release for an entirely different format designed for the Internet age.
“The media and stakeholders will get a fresh approach from Canadian Government departments and agencies,” Kim McKinnon of the Communications Community Office wrote in an official blog post. “Two or three paragraphs of short, crisp text will allow them to scan quickly for the key messages of the announcement. The new format also offers quick access to key facts and additional resources.”
The post includes a link to an example of the government’s new release format. After some brief introductory paragraphs, the release goes into “quick facts” bullet points, followed by a quote, and some links.
Government communicators will be encouraged to “repurpose the quick facts and quotes for Facebook and Twitter posts,” according to McKinnon’s post.
The new release format coincides with the recent launch of the government of Canada’s newsroom website.
The Canadian government isn’t quite taking the advice of Coca-Cola’s Ashley Brown, who hasadvocated for the death of the press release altogether in favor of brand journalism initiatives. Its press releases are evolving, not going out the window. After all, McKinnon’s blog post is titled, “The press release is dead. Long live the press release.”