Tips to putting your company’s best face (and message) forward while mitigating potential crisis situations.
You don’t need to be in a PR crisis situation to leverage best practices in avoiding them. We can all think of instances where someone’s rogue statement has set off a firestorm of controversy or fallout. When it comes to our day-to-day work as PR and communications professionals – whether within an agency or as a client – managing messaging and mitigating a PR storm is part of the job description.
Here are 5 simple steps to proactively putting your company’s best face (and message) forward while mitigating potential crisis situations:
1. Limit your number of spokespeople
Too many cooks the kitchen lead to contradictions and mixed messages. Choose one official spokesperson who will be the voice of your company and address all media inquiries. If your messaging is complex and it’s beneficial to have subject matter experts (SMEs) also address the media, identify those individuals as well, but they should always be serving in a supportive role to your spokesperson, who is the lead.
We are seeing this often with COVID-19 communications, where many state leaders are delivering their message and leveraging SMEs in the public health space to provide support and further educate audiences.
2. Choose your spokesperson/people deliberately
The CEO, Board Chair, or other leader of your company might not always be the best representative of your company in all situations. (Yes, I know this can be a difficult conversation to have.) It is important to choose the right person for the situation at hand. This is someone who can deliver your message accurately and authentically; who conveys confidence; and who will remain calm in tough situations.
3. Know your information
Don’t be caught off-guard without information you should know. Depending on the severity of the situation, it could (at best) diminish your credibility or (at worst) derail all the rest of your messaging. If you are asked a very technical question that you don’t know the answer to, it’s ok to say so and then promptly follow up afterwards with the correct information. Never try to “fake” your way through a question. It will not work, and it will negate everything else you did well.
4. Anticipate tough questions
This is the number one benefit I find in media training and practicing. There are always questions you may not think of right away, and they can be the downfall of an otherwise perfect interview. Identify tough questions ahead of time. Write them down. Vet them with the appropriate parties. Practice the answers out loud. Even better, practice them with another peer, who can stand in the role of the reporter and ask follow-up questions you may not have prepared for.
5. Develop and remain on message
In developing your messaging, know what your goals are, who your audience is, and the media landscape you are working within. You should have no more than three clear, well-defined messages. Any more than three becomes difficult for both you and you audience to remember, and the impact becomes diminished.
Once you have your messages, know them and stick to them. Don’t let tricky questions or the way they are phrased box you into a specific response. Use techniques such as pivoting, bridging, and transitional phrases to stay in control and get your message across.
PR crisis situations are sometimes unavoidable, but by proactively employing PR and communications best practices, we can help to mitigate their occurrence. And at the same time, we’ll also be improving our overall communications impact even when there is no PR storm on the horizon.
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