I am reminded almost daily that we live in a world gone amok. From BP to Toyota to Tiger Woods, we have seen a slew of obscenely bad PR moves recently where everyone except the PR team seems to get that they are off track.
When things go horribly, publicly askew it is time to pull out the ol’ Crisis Communication Plan — you know, the one that never got your full attention, but is needed in a hurry when things go wrong without warning.
Key leaders within your organization need to be primed, trained and ready for a crisis.
The newest vital sign that crisis communications is D.O.A is the live footage of Laguna Honda Hospital chief of community relations Marc Slavin refusing to stop touching ABC7 reporter Dan Noyes. The video went viral with professionals weighing in via Twitter, blogs and LinkedIn calling the PR pro (and I use that term very graciously in this case) “creepy,” “weird” and “unprofessional.”
Laguna Honda Hospital was already in crisis mode, needing a tourniquet from the poor publicity it gained locally stemming from accusations that the administrators used money from the Patient Gift Fund to buy catered meals and airline tickets. Add the cyber-snickering of thousands and you have yourself a full scale PR emergency where your communications team needs to take a backseat while corporate leadership takes a stand.
As PR professionals, our job is to remind senior managers and leadership from all functions that PR is not just a department, but a strategic approach from the c-suite down that will move the company forward in the best of times and spare everyone a bit of pain in the worst of times. PR cannot save you if you have done something bad, but just like you make your CEO practice fire drills once a year, it may be a good idea to give the crisis communications plan a run through once in a while.
Communications leaders should guide their organizations to follow these four simple steps to move the conversation and focus forward during a crisis:
1.) REGRET: Board members, management or staff do not need to apologize, but the Organization as a whole must REGRET what has happened, (individuals do not have to feel guilty or even responsible). Sample: The Board regrets that the financial situation has deteriorated to this point.
2.) RESOLVE: It must be made clear that the Organization is working to RESOLVE the issue. Sample: The Board has resolved both publicly and privately to work toward solutions to ensure the financial health of the Organization.
3.) REFORM: Without the promise of change, customers, clients, members, investors have nothing to cling to. Sample: The Organization is in the process of evaluating reforms to the current [insert issue here] and will be making reforms to this process by the end of the quarter.
4.) RESTITUTION: Publicly giving back or compensating in some way is something the Organization may want to consider. Sample: The Organization is examining the possibility of requiring reimbursements for items that were entered as expenses, but were found to for be personal use.
During a crisis (real or perceived) the company must immediately and adequately respond. The PR person is not always the best person to deliver these messages – someone from the top needs step up and respond or you will end up looking like the director in the video who is all too eager to get away from the cameras and let her flack take over.
Public relations professionals that are serious about guiding their organizations appropriately will have the insight and management skills to prioritize crisis communications planning to ensure their organizations are prepared.
Just please remember, happy hands do not make happy journalists.