As 2014 comes to a close, the headlines seem to be dominated by crisis stories—Sony, Bill Cosby, Eric Garner, Rolling Stone. Communicators often see individuals and brands go through troubled times, whether by their own fault or the actions of others, yet the mentality still persists in many corners of PR that “it won’t happen to us.” That’s a mistake.
Experiencing a brand crisis is not a matter of if, but when. Sooner or later, fate, or a disgruntled customer or unthinking manager, will plunge your brand into chaos. The best way to prepare for this inevitability is to plan for it in advance. Here are six steps you can take before a crisis ever hits that will help you when dark days descend.
- Identify your team. Keep it manageable and focus on the key players: CEO, legal, CFO, subject matter expert, and, of course, PR.
- Choose your spokesperson. This can be the head of your company, but oftentimes the best spokesperson is the one closest to the crisis. They will be more believable because they will be considered the most knowledgeable.
- Develop your message. This is when you choose the words that will communicate the facts you need to get out to the public. Choose them wisely and stick to them.
- Test your message. Train your spokesperson by creating a mock press conference in which they will practice delivering the message. And make it interesting. Play the role of a tough reporter and interrupt the spokesperson, or ask leading questions to trap them into saying something wrong. Offer them false or misleading information and see what they do with it.
- Analyze. Go over the testing session and assess how the messaging worked, or didn’t work. How was the spokesperson’s performance? Did their body language, voice and eyes convey sincerity or discomfort? Did they fall into any traps that the reporters laid for them? Then make changes accordingly.
- Meet the press. Coordinate your messaging across all digital and traditional media so that no mixed messages are sent out. Create a plan for engaging the media at the earliest opportunity after a crisis hits, but don’t rush out unprepared. Be armed with all the facts at your disposal and stay on message.
For more tips on handling a crisis, check out the latest edition of PR News’ Crisis Management Guidebook.
Follow Richard Brownell on Twitter: @RickBrownell