Oops: When crisis strikes, is your comms team ready?

Oops_ When crisis strikes, is your comms team ready_

“This is a crisis. A large crisis. In fact, if you’ve got a moment, it’s a twelve-storey crisis with a magnificent entrance hall, carpeting throughout, 24-hour portage, and an enormous sign on the roof, saying ‘This Is a Large Crisis’. A large crisis requires a large plan. Get me two pencils and a pair of underpants.”

It’s a classic quote from arguably the finest British comedy of all time. It also encapsualtes the very essence of what a crisis feels like for any organisation that has had the misfortune of finding itself having to face one. But crisis do happen, and while they may be infrequent, their impact on the organisation’s reputation and profits can be profound. Knowing how to manage a PR crisis is essential, so what do you need to be aware of?

When something happens to destabilise the corporate ship, it is important to remain steadfast to the organisation’s long-term objectives and not order a change of course to defend against the current storm. As Bill Clinton, in an interview with Alistair Campbell, said: “Too many decision makers define their reality according to that day’s media. It is almost always a mistake.” He is right.

In an age when voices can be heard and opinions vented across a plethora of mediums, the decision to react or not is to be carefully considered: is the issue important and in line with the organisation’s overall strategy? Or is it a curveball that could throw it off course – pushing it into a direction it doesn’t necessarily want to be heading? In other words, is it a distraction or does it demand your full focus?

Too many organisations think that the only way to quell any criticism against them is to issue a media response that communicates a statement of intent into how they will seek to make what is seemingly wrong, better.

But such statements tend to be defensive or emotional and based more on second-guessing what others may think of them, rather than recognising what action (or non-action) is required in each situation. They run the risk of the organisation’s overall message becoming diluted; thereby, undermining their entire communications strategy.

In 1998 the Starr Report exposed Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky and with it evidence that would see the Clinton become only the second US President in history to be impeached. For many leaders this would hasten an end to their political careers, in much the same way as it did John Profumo in Britain in the early 1960s. Not so for Clinton.

He said: “I realised that if I spent all my time answering questions about Kenneth Starr, my personal life or whatever charge anyone wanted to ask, then that’s immediately what the media would show on television at night and then the voters would believe that’s all I was doing, even if I spent 10 minutes a day on it.”

“I didn’t talk about it….I only spoke to the media about my job, and they could make their minds up about all the charges that were flying back and forth…I wanted them to see that no matter what happened I was doing my job.”

The media responded and its interpretation of events at the time eventually became less antagonistic and more neutral. US News, for instance, described the whole saga as a “manageable threat rather than a serious restraint on presidential conduct.”

By becoming embroiled in a game of applying quick fixes to fresh cuts that appear here, there and everywhere you run the risk of losing sight of what is important and veering off the course that has been set. That will only damage your reputation and ensure the dark clouds remain over your head for longer than you think. So stay on message and don’t allow yourself to be distracted by unexpected events.

If crisis strikes your organisation, we can help you. We’ve worked with healthcare, consumer, professional services and legal practitioners with their crisis communications and we can do the same for you. Go to http://www.clearlypr.co.uk/contact/