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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.