5 Expertly Handled Crisis Management & PR Situations
The very mention of a crisis suggests that a situation is either about to take a turn for the worse, or it already has. In this widely-accepted crisis definition, mistakes have been made, warning signs have been ignored, and now someone has to clean up the mess, or at least minimize the damage already done.
That’s where crisis management comes in. It’s a highly-specialized profession, but one that will always be needed because nothing in this world is foolproof. But what makes for a good crisis manager? And how can you tell if the crisis response they suggest is the right one for your unique situation?
Experience is a good indicator. As a public relations agency focused on risk management and crisis response, the crisis management team at Red Banyan has helped resolve a myriad of crisis situations for both individuals and organizations. We’ve seen it all, and then some.
To illustrate the effectiveness of skilled crisis communication, we’ve compiled a few examples that shine a light on how our crisis management teams can quickly assess a situation and then provide an effective crisis response when reputations and livelihoods are at risk. Let’s take a look.
A Company Crisis Averted
First, consider the case of a high-profile CEO of a major corporation. This individual was the face of the firm. As a well-known figure in the business world, his public image was above reproach.
The problem was, he was burning through corporate finances like no tomorrow. He set up his mistress in a luxury penthouse, and lavished her with extravagant gifts, all on the company’s dime. Once the board of directors found out, their decision was clear. To avoid a scandal that would send shockwaves through the industry, he had to be removed, no questions asked.
The board confronted him with evidence, advised him to step down and told him just how it would be done. A press release would paint him in glowing terms, there would be a mutual nondisclosure agreement, he’d receive a severance package and then quietly go away—which is precisely what happened.
For this assignment, our Red Banyan crisis management team mapped the entire exit strategy, one hundred percent. Our planning guided the company and its board of directors through every step. We solved the company’s corporate PR (link) problem and the world never found out about it. It just goes to prove, many times the best way to manage a crisis is to prevent it from ever happening.
Response in the Nick of Time
One day we received a call from someone who asked if we did crisis PR. After we answered yes, his next question to me was, “How quickly can you start?” This usually means a full-blown crisisis at hand, and in this case, that was an understatement.
Here were the details: The CEO informed us that his Chief Operating Officer was just arrested as an unregistered sex offender. Half of his staff not only quit, they blogged about the incident and the local media picked it up. He had already spoken to reporters before he called our firm and now the story was about to air on the 5 o’clock news. He told us all this at 2 o’clock that afternoon.
The entire sequence of events was a textbook crisis definition. While he hired a sex offender, presumably to give him another chance in life, he didn’t consider how his company’s reputation would be dragged through the mud. Then he talked to reporters before consulting with our agency. That’s never a good idea. Meanwhile, we literally had just minutes to engage in damage control.
With hardly any time to think, we had to rely on our training and experience. We got on the phone to the reporter and found a way to slow the story down and shape the message in our client’s favor. We had to keep the bad actions of one individual from ruining the reputation of the entire company. And through sheer persistence, we pulled it off.
It was all mitigated so beautifully. Our firm convinced the newspaper not to use the company’s name in the headline. We kept it out of other media outlets. Acting as their spokesperson, our comment was accepted, which ate up real estate in the article. The news source also ran a statement from the CEO, which put the firm in a very favorable light. Considering the facts, it was a miraculous outcome.
The lesson here is to not wait until you’re embroiled in a crisis to call for help, but do everything in your power to prevent it in the first place. And that’s where the planning and risk management expertise of Red Banyan can help.
Public Relations Rescues a Private School
A highly-regarded private school received tips that The New York Times was preparing a story claiming the non-profit school hired unqualified instructors to teach children with learning disabilities. The fallout from such an article could severely damage the reputation of this well-known institution.
Soon after, the school received an email from the reporter, and shared it with Red Banyan. In effect, the message said, “My deadline is coming up. I’m giving you fair opportunity to comment, but my story is going forward no matter what.” It didn’t mince words.
We agreed to take on their case and act as the school’s spokesperson. We phoned the reporter, asking her to tell the story as she saw it, so as to make sure the facts were right. She was very resistant, but before wrapping up, we asked the reporter for more information. And it became very evident the parent of a former student had contacted her.
Working through a crisis management plan with the school, we then mapped out this particular student’s entire academic history and double-checked the training and credentials of the young girl’s instructors. Everything the reporter was being told was untrue, but to no avail. Because the parent had gotten to her first, the reporter was sticking with the original allegations.
Then we caught a break. Right before the article was to be published, the parent posted on social media that she couldn’t wait to see how the school administrators will react when they get ripped apart in The New York Times this weekend.”
As any good crisis manager would do, we took a screenshot of her post and sent it to the reporter and her editor. We urged them to take a look at how a parent was using their venerated newspaper’s reputation to slam the school. And guess what happened? They killed the piece. We got the result we wanted.
The lesson here is to engage with crisis management experts at the first sign of wrongdoing and never give in—especially if you know you’re right.
Tips That Turned in a Swindler
He was being hailed as the youngest African-American CEO of a publicly traded company. He spoke at the Democratic National Convention. On TV, he was profiled on primetime news programs and his media coverage never seemed to end. He was a self-perpetuating publicity machine.
But his empire was a house of cards. The lawyer who retained us said, “I’m representing victims who’ve been bilked out of their money. This guy is running a Ponzi scheme, and he’s hiding in plain sight.”
The Securities and Exchange Commission wasn’t doing anything. He wasn’t on the Attorney General’s radar. Until we started pressing the truth, this individual had stolen in excess of 30 million dollars from his victims. And then he disappeared.
Our crisis management experts ended up working with the law firm and, over time, exposed this character and revealed him to be the fraudster he was. Through our contacts, we alerted the media as to his true colors, and they did the rest.
We made his disappearance big news, in a way that couldn’t be ignored. Ultimately, due mainly to the excessive media coverage, we received tips as to his whereabouts. After getting these tips, the first call we made was to a network news producer. Within hours we had a TV crew on the ground.
They staked out this con artist, and then confronted him on camera in a man-on-the-street style interview. It aired on a major. Within days he was under arrest. The feds brought him to trial, where he was convicted and sent to prison for many years. That’s the power of PR.
A Restaurant Relies on Our Service
Like all food service establishments, a popular family-owned restaurant was subject to periodic health inspections. During one visit, it was determined the restaurant failed in a couple of categories. It was nothing major and could easily be corrected. Still, the inspectors had to file a public report on what they saw.
Meanwhile, the investigative team of the local TV affiliate knew they had a juicy story when they got hold of the restaurant’s health inspection report. Next thing you know, the station ran a “Dirty Dining” segment, and they zeroed in on this one restaurant in particular.
At that point, the owner knew he had a crisis on his hands. We took his call, and started working for him right away. Reviewing the situation, we told the owner, “You need to be prepared because the reporter may show up again with a camera crew. He might do a follow-up at your restaurant and try to interview you.”
And so, we put a crisis management plan in place that dealt with the situation head on. Everyone on staff understood and knew what to say. They had a script written for them. And they were instructed to say it again and again and not deviate from the message.
And sure enough, the reporter showed up at the restaurant. Thankfully, the owner had also been prepped by us, and was able to provide a couple of quick soundbites to give the TV crew what they needed.
So yes, the TV station ran a negative story. The owner knew that wasn’t the ideal outcome, but it was counterbalanced by his explanation. The story was also tempered by quotes we gave to the reporter in a prepared statement. So that filled up airtime as well. And there were no negative visuals.
With everyone knowing their roles and pitching in, we had done it. Everybody moved on, and today the restaurant is doing just fine. As it turned out, the coverage had no lasting impact on the business whatsoever.
The point of these examples is that preparation is vitally important. When in doubt, don’t hesitate to contact a crisis PR firm to determine whether or not you’re in a crisis situation and what to do next. Your hard-earned reputation and livelihood may depend on it.