Effective crisis management is crucial when you are facing a PR nightmare. How you deal with a crisis can really impact on how your company or business will be viewed by the public. Its all about making the best out of a situation, in some cases coming out of the crisis in a better position that you were previously (this is the dream scenario however).
I guess in the wake of a crisis, PR practitioners can really show what they are made of and come into their own. It is their time to shine. However dealing with a crisis can be very tricky, the media love a good disaster (look at the state of our banks, or the Cheryl Cole and Ashley Cole scandal).
Management really is the key in situations like this. The truth is ignoring it will only make it worse, it leads to speculation which in the end only allows for a snowball effect to take place. You only have to take Toyota as an example of this. “If you don’t dive in, others will define who you are”.
The first step would be to plan for a crisis. This is only logical as Philip J Kitchen in his book ‘Public Relations: Principles and Practices’ explains. This only makes sense as a company will invest millions in creating and maintaining their reputation, thus some time and money should be spent in preparing for a crisis, should it arise.Therefore, arrangements should be made.
Then the next step as, Kitchen explains would be to perform a ‘risk audit’. This means to evaluate the risks that may occur. Then to prioritise these risks in order of most harmful. Again this is only logical. By doing this the appropriate measures for each risk can be clearly thought through and thus have plans in place should the risk turn into a real life crisis.
The audience that the crisis is most likely to affect should be identified. This allows for communicating with this audience in the most effective manner. This is crucial. It is essentially the audience that your crisis affects that will make or break your image. If you can communicate with them via the best methods then this will really go in your favour.
A crisis communication procedure should then be put into place. This involves identifying “who will be responsible for managing all aspects of the communications process, who will act as the main spokespeople, where will they need to be, who will handle the deluge of expected telephone calls?” - Phillip J Kitchen, Public Relations: Principles and Practices. This type of communication procedure, as most authors on the topic identify, should be open and flexible. There is no point in having a rigid inflexible procedure. A crisis, is something that is “seen as a very unusual situation that may threaten an organisation’s business, reputation, image, and relationships, or…harm its publics…threats are regarded as external threats from the market or the surrounding environment” - Faljheimer and Heide, 2006:3. In other words a threat or crisis is unpredictable and so a rigid routine to deal with it will not suffice, instead it should be adaptable to sufficiently deal with the nature of a crisis.
OK, so now you have your communications procedure ready to go BUT you must remember to have competent, actually more than competent public relations practitioners (spokespeople) to deal with the hostile questions which will inevitably be asked. They must be trained in how to handle; television interviews, radio interviews, telephone interviews, online interviews, press conferences and all areas of social media successfully. The staff which will be interviewed and questioned should be media savvy and have had some training of this. They must be able to deliver a consistent message and not get blinded by the media and its methods of getting a good story.
Lastly…TEST TEST TEST! The procedures must be TESTED to see if they do in fact work. This ensures that an organisation is fully equipped for dealing with the dreaded crisis.