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Quick Guide to Effective Crisis PR

Much has been written about Crisis PR, rife with examples of doing it wrong or doing it right. I often get asked to provide a quick reference for managing challenging public relations situations. Keep in mind that  “public” doesn’t mean “the public” as a whole, but rather represents the group of people or institutions who are the intended audience for the communication efforts of the individual or business in crisis. And, that this quick guide to crisis PR is written from a strategic perspective. Tactical implementations (how you achieve authentically addressing perceptions, for instance) will vary based on who is having the crisis and who needs to be influenced regarding it.

  1. Facts First: Define the facts, provide appropriate context. Site sources for the facts and context. Provide references to sources/links/etc. for the media (or public) to do their own fact-checking. Clarify what is perception and what is fact in the situation at hand. Be precise with the language.
  2. Authentically Address Perceptions: Display (and mean it) appropriate concern or involvement. Regardless of the truth of the accusations/situation, people/ publics ARE concerned. That concern should be addressed authentically and honestly. Telling people “don’t be concerned” doesn’t work. Telling people the truth, and allowing them the opportunity to unconcern themselves, does. Perception is reality for each individual and the only two things that ever have or ever will change perception are communication/information and actual experience.
  3. Close the Loop: Seek ways to see if perceptions actually are changing… gather feedback from the public or constituencies you are trying to influence. This can be via in-person meetings, surveys, social network communities, performing analysis of online commentary, media mentions/tone, etc. But it is absolutely necessary in order to gauge the effectiveness of the crisis communications plan, to identify emerging issues (good or bad), and to appropriately target further messaging.
  4. Rinse, Repeat: The message, if complex, may require multiple layers/channels of communication and multiple instances of communication. Influencing perceptions via communication and information is a process, not an event.
Implementing a solid crisis PR plan requires a defined objective for the plan, willing sources and available information, someone appropriate with a willingness to be interviewed and the will to prepare well for being interviewed, a willingness to address the perceptions calmly – even when they are demonstrably false – and a commitment to the long term process of communication. That means sometimes communities will have to be grown (though ideally, you already have a community and what has to happen in crisis is engaging/motivating your community, not building one), platforms may have to be built… again, the nature of the crisis, the nature of the public you need to reach will determine the best tactical approaches.
There you have it… the Quick Guide to the Strategy of Crisis PR. If you have a comment, other tips, tried and true approaches you want to share, contrary views, or examples good, bad or ugly, please post them in the comments.
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