Stop, Listen and Respond

January 18, 2011 § Leave a comment

Written By Jessica Vollrath

Dealing with a crisis situation is the Super Bowl for public relations professionals.  Most crisis situations happen unexpectedly, hence why they are called a “crisis.”  When this happens, it’s important to follow a crisis communications plan or strategy that has been established in advance.  It’s also important to practice your crisis plan with the people that could be affected and involved beforehand, so designated spokespersons are aware of the proper procedures to follow.

As a PR firm, our clients are put in testing situations – not often, which is good, but it does occur.  Below are some simple steps to follow as a guideline if your company were to have a crisis situation arise.

1.  Stop and Listen.  When a crisis situation happens, blood levels rise, people begin to think the worst and tempers sometimes may flare.  Instead of making the situation worse by hyperventilating, it’s good to just stop for a moment and listen to what is being said about your company.  You need to get all the facts lined-up so that you can tell your story correctly.  Talk to the people involved, follow your local news outlets, social media and any other form of communications to establish the facts and see what is being said. 

2.  Implement the Plan.  Once you have all the facts, it’s time to prepare your response.  Again, since this is a crisis, you need to move quickly.  As we’ve seen so many times with many companies, a response does not work if it comes a week later – others will tell your story by then, and it will be even more difficult to make things right.  Here are the most important items you need to figure out while responding:

  • Gather the crisis team together and define responsibilities (CEO, legal, PR, HR, etc.)
  • Develop the statement or response with the crisis team.  Determine the facts to be communicated.  Think about the company’s credibility, its impact on the community, etc.  Think about the company’s “image restoration.”  In a response, it’s never good to deny or shift blame, or to lie or fudge the statement.  Tell the truth, be empathetic and state your case.
  • After the statement/response is finalized, determine the key audiences that should receive your response and the correct communication vehicles to be used to tell your side of the story.  Your local news outlets, social media, your website, letter from the CEO, etc.  Not every single communication vehicle has to be used in a crisis situation – use your best judgement and use the communication that will reach your key audiences most effectively.

3.  Tell your Story.  Once the communication vehicles are determined, get your story out.  The spokesperson(s) have to be ready and on call for any media or other requests immediately after the response is issued.  It’s important that after releasing a statement the company spokespersons are available for comment.  This will increase the company’s credibility.  Hiding behind a press release will not garner more support for the company by the community.

4.  Monitor the Media.  Keep track of all the media/communication outlets that are responding and take note of how they are telling your story.  If a media outlet isn’t telling the story correctly, contact the local reporter or assignment editor and talk with them about your side of the story. 

Again, it’s always important to practice a crisis situation beforehand and train the crisis response team that will be involved.  Practice makes perfect and having a strategy in place will enable the company to properly react timely and efficiently should a crisis arise.


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