Crisis? What Crisis? How PR Can Help Avert a Business Disaster

Most businesses understand the benefits of good PR. If you raise your profile and get your good news stories out in the media then people will remember you, associate you with a good product and go on to become customers.

But sometimes things go wrong and your reputation, or that of your business, is in danger. This should also be a time when you turn to PR, and use its tools to avert disaster and get a better result for yourself and your business.

So, what do you do in a crisis? What if you have a journalist ringing you for comments about a bad news story? How to you handle the fall-out?

Each situation is different, and calls for a different response but one thing you should never do – NEVER do nothing. If you bury your head in the sand, wish the reporters would go away, batten down the hatches or simply hope for the best, the best won’t happen. With nothing from you, journalists can put their own spin on a story; if you reportedly “refused to comment” or were “unavailable for comment” people will invariably draw a bad conclusion.

But this doesn’t mean you have to “spill the beans” about everything that has happened. You just need to keep calm, take a breather, and analyse what the best thing is to say.

So, if something has happened and you think the press may find out, then be prepared for that eventuality.

For example, you could have an employee arrested on a criminal charge; you might have had to let someone go and you believe they may have an axe to grind and choose to do so through the media; a customer may have a problem (real or imagined) that they are likely to shout from the rooftops.

In this case, prepare for that call by doing the following:

1. Decide who is allowed to speak to the press (senior managers or directors usually) and inform all staff that any media calls must be referred to them.

2. Make sure the spokespeople are fully briefed.

3. Come up with an agreed statement which can be issued to any reporters and don’t stray beyond it. Keep it brief, factual and unemotional. If you aren’t sure what to say, then at least say you are “looking into the matter” or “taking the matter seriously”. “No comment”” is rarely the best option.

You never know, the call may not come, but at least you were prepared.

In fact, whether you are likely to experience bad news or not, it is always a good idea to decide who is the company spokesperson, and instruct staff accordingly.

And if you aren’t expecting the proverbial to hit the fan, and a call from a newspaper comes out of the blue? Then buy some time. Ask them when their deadline is (you ought to at least have a few minutes, if not hours) and promise you will get back to them with a statement. Don’t speak off the cuff unless you are very confident.

Respect journalists’ deadlines, otherwise you will only aggravate them and – as far as possible – you need to try and keep them on side.

Then make sure you do go back to them with a prepared statement. Again, come up with something better than “no comment”. Remember, they have heard one side of the story and this is your opportunity to put yours but only let them know what you want them to know. Don’t get into a slanging match with the other side: it may make good reading but won’t do your reputation any favours.

If you are happy to be fully interviewed then go ahead – but make sure you know all there is to know about what you are talking about and prepare yourself for tricky questions.

Should you go for off the record? Journalists should respect this, and sometimes – just sometimes – it can be helpful to give them a little background information (off the record and not for publication) which might just take the wind out of their story’s sails. Again, think carefully and rationally about this first before you jump in.

If you use the services of a PR professional, they can organise all this for you, even take the calls and deal with the press so freeing you up to take any necessary behind the scenes action

In a nutshell, be prepared if you can, don’t be an ostrich and hope it will go away, make a plan, and come up with something.