When Crisis Hits, Don’t Change the Subject – Control It

We all have bad days. It’s what we do to bounce back that matters.

The same logic can apply to corporations.

“Leaders need to treat public relations crises as the acute threats they are,” says Rosemary Plorin, a Nashville-based crisis planning and communications expert. “Just as the first minutes following an acute medical event are crucial for the patient’s eventual recovery, the first moments after a crisis breaks can determine how the rest of the situation plays out.”

Plorin adds that many inexperienced crisis managers respond to crises by stonewalling. They refuse to engage with outsiders looking for more information about the problem in the hopes that changing the subject will make the issue disappear.

Usually, that’s not enough. In fact, the more severe the crisis, the more unlikely it’ll be buried simply by changing the subject – particularly in today’s world in which gripes, mistakes and even straight slander can be quickly propagated with the click of the “retweet” button.

So, what can an inexperienced or overmatched crisis manager do to address an issue that threatens the reputation — and, in many cases, the very existence — of their organization?

Start by taking steps to control the conversation. That’s easier said than done, and it’s obviously situation-dependent. Some crises are harder to control than others. Many defy easy fixes altogether. But you’ll have a much better chance of beating the odds if you implement these strategies for better crisis communications during the early stages of a fast-moving crisis:

  1. Make a List of Eventualities

You can’t know everything that could possibly go wrong in advance. There are too many “unknown unknowns” in this world for that.

But, if you’ve been paying attention, you’re probably aware of the biggest threats to your organization’s reputation and stability. Before you’re forced into crisis mode, draw up a list of the most likely crises you might encounter (except those unknown unknowns, of course) and consider what kind of response is required for each.

  1. Devise Channel-Appropriate Responses

In the wake of a crisis, you can produce a YouTube video apologizing for the problem and explaining what went wrong. You can send out tweets with succinct announcements as the situation unfolds. You can produce TV and radio spots targeting those affected. You can publish apologies, explanations or disclosures in local print and digital media. And of course, you can communicate one-on-one (or through a personalized email blast) with your highest priority audiences: investors, employees, customers, regulators, etc.

You can do all these things and more, but one thing is virtually guaranteed: there is no single response. Your communications need to be tailored (in pitch-perfect fashion) for each channel. If you don’t have the in-house talent to develop those messages or cover a particularly important channel, make sure you get it — or retain a competent outsider to help.

  1. Make Someone the Face of Your Response

Depending on the size and reach of your organization, this might be a communications director, a key executive, or the owner or president him/herself. If the crisis is particularly acute or sprawling, “it” could be several people. Regardless, your point person or people need(s) to be involved from minute one — and need to be visible enough that they’re immediately associated with the issue and your response.

What’s your plan of attack in the event of a crisis that threatens your organization?


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September 27, 2016 When Crisis Hits, Don’t Change the Subject – Control It