By: Gerald J. Sherman
This week we witnessed a case study in what not to do when a negative situation becomes public domain. George Washington had the right idea by admitting he cut down the cherry tree. Unfortunately, Representative Anthony Weiner made the big mistake of lying and it may be costly to his political career. The impact and media attention could have been somewhat mitigated had he told the truth.
Despite all of the hard work an organization or an individual puts into creating a positive public image, it is likely that at some point, somewhere in the media or in the word-of-mouth realm, a negative story may crop up. The source of the negative story can be the individual’s or company’s own doing. The negative story can be a true depiction of events or it can be a complete fabrication without any substantiation. The damage from negative exposure can be disastrous if the audience views the organization/individual with suspicion.
Within the field of public relations, crisis management is one of its functions. Crisis management can at times develop into a nasty affair, and we should be prepared and ready to deal with it. Unchecked, the small and insignificant development of yesterday can easily blow up into the shocking episode of tomorrow. Therefore, a public relations crises should simply not be ignored but addressed as soon as possible.
To pretend the crisis is not happening and keep on doing business as usual will not make the crisis go away. Carefully planned and implemented crisis management methods are key to turning a crisis around. It won’t erase it but it can soften the blow.
No “No Comment!”
“No Comment,” “we will get back to you,” or “at this time we can’t release any information,” To the media, these lame statements mean the company has no grip on the situation and will possibly make matters worse. Appointing a qualified trained individual to “meet the press,” is a necessity. There should always be a plan to deal with a crisis.
The Self-Inflicted Crisis
When the source of a crisis is the individual’s or organization’s own actions, whether erroneous or intentional, the crisis can be said to be a self-inflicted crisis. In principle, such a crisis could have been averted had the person/organization been more careful or prudent. Since the person or organization bears the responsibility for the crisis, it must also take a proactive approach to rectifying the damage.
When faced with this type of a crisis, they should do whatever it takes to make things right with its audience and the community at large. The admission of fault is usually the preferred way from a crisis management perspective because it demonstrates a first step toward taking responsibility.
Organizations and individuals should have a crisis plan in place which includes the message to the media and all concerned parties. For an organization, managing the media requests and press conferences should be a prime concern. Appointing qualified trained individuals to meet the press is a necessity.
We are living in a 24-hour communications age. With the advent of cable news, Internet and blogs, the news moves faster than a speeding bullet. Even Superman could not stop news of a crisis from reaching the vast audience it does. Knowing this, it would be foolish to think that a crisis could be shoved under the proverbial rug in order to avoid negative coverage. If it’s news—it’s out there!
So what should we do before a crisis hits? Preparation and planning—the P & P—are our best friends. In fact the P& P should be part of all business plans. The plan should state how the company will react when a crisis appears. There should be a section in the plan devoted to appointing a crisis spokesperson and a crisis team as soon as the crisis is apparent. Then, the managing process should be clearly spelled out, doing the research regarding the crisis at once and then managing the crisis.
Contacting the media before they contact you is important but not always possible. Having all the facts, presenting them with integrity, letting the press know what happened, how it happened and what you are doing about the crisis is crucial. Give the media the whole story! Above all, step up to the plate, and apologize to everyone concerned.
Excerpts from the book, Fashion Public Relations, Gerald J. Sherman & Sar S. Perlman. Fairchild Books, Division of Conde Nast Publications, (2010)