A Step-by-Step Guide to Crisis PR & Intervention
When you’re embroiled in a crisis, you want it to “go away” as soon as possible. And to that point, if you work with a professional crisis manager, and you’re in an anxious state-of-mind, you might even utter the words: “I don’t care how you do it, just get it done.”
But as the founder of the crisis management firm Red Banyan, I’m here to say that you should most definitely care how your crisis situation is handled. That’s because in the crucible of a crisis, every decision is magnified, and just one misstep or overlooked detail could compound the problem or make it infinitely worse.
Step One: Plan and Strategize
So, when answering a crisis call, the very first step that any responsible crisis manager should take is to develop a plan of action. This involves instantly taking stock of the situation, quickly analyzing the circumstances leading up to the crisis, and creating a strategy to move forward.
The element of time is a very important factor to consider, because it is almost certain you will not have the luxury of thinking through every possible outcome before deciding on a crisis response. That is why there is no substitute for experience. You want crisis management experts who’ve been there, and done that, to help you develop an effective crisis management plan.
It’s true that no two crises are exactly alike, but by drawing on our decades of proven results, the crisis management team at Red Banyan can immediately recognize patterns, similarities and red flags from prior cases that can help inform the decisions we need to make to stop the bleeding, and keep a volatile situation under control.
I should also mention there’s no smarter risk management decision than having your company conduct a crisis audit in advance—well before a threat appears on the horizon. Preventive planning is one of Red Banyan’s core offerings, and we do so to identify potential areas of concern, and possibly prevent a crisis from ever happening.
Step Two: Engage with the Media
News travels fast, and rumors can spread like wildfire. Media outlets can pounce on a story with remarkable speed. It is for this reason that you need a crisis manager who has mastered the rules of engagement when dealing with reporters, and can speak to your situation with authority. And to do so effectively, you must first have a story to tell.
Before a single word is shared with the press, it is absolutely essential to interpret the facts, lock down your message, and be truthful about what you say. Smart crisis managers know not to lie, because in these of days of instant access to information, facts can easily be checked, and you don’t want to say something that is demonstrably false.
Much of the public relations success that I’ve had through decades of working with reporters is because if I or my team comes to them with a story or news item, then it is credible. There’s never a doubt that I’m bringing them something that is legitimate and can be thoroughly vetted. At Red Banyan, we don’t tell lies, we don’t sell spin, we deliver truth.
There are some steadfast PR approaches at work when engaging with reporters. As I’ve stressed, you should deal with them openly, honestly and transparently. Having a good crisis manager can also help you set the ground rules of any public appearances or media interactions, so that you’re not ambushed by investigative journalists using “gotcha” tactics.
And how you connect with the media is just as important. A big part of it is communicating with a reporter according to their preference, or where they “live”—whether it’s over the phone, via email, or instant messaging platforms like WhatsApp and Twitter.
Admittedly, it is difficult to face the media and negotiate favorable coverage on your behalf. That is why many of our clients prefer to have me or a member of my team act as their spokesperson, and we’re glad to do so. But I have a strong conviction that being media savvy is a skill that any individual, business owner or executive should acquire. And it is for that reason, we offer a comprehensive course in media training.
We teach people how to think like reporters, how to anticipate questions they are most likely to face—and perhaps most importantly, how to respond to difficult or challenging questions. Our clients often find that becoming skilled in media interactions can benefit them not only in times that fit the classic crisis definition, but throughout their daily professional lives.
Step Three: Press the Truth
While I’ve repeatedly stated how important it is not to lie when dealing with a crisis, neither should you merely tell the truth in a plain, matter-of-fact way, and just hopepeople will believe you. Instead you should convince them to side with your version of the story, and remove all shadow of doubt. And the way to do that is to press the truth.
By pressing the truth, I mean using all the tools of reason and rhetoric to tell your client’s story in a compelling way. At Red Banyan, pressing the truth is our proprietary approach to crisis PR and communications; it’s baked into everything we do. To illustrate what I mean, consider just how much words can matter in the following examples:
For instance, don’t simply say you are having a press conference. Instead, say you are “holding a press conference to forcefully denounce the false claims brought against you.” Or, take your cue from a skilled crisis manager who might describe how his client will “aggressively defend his reputation” or “will reveal crucial evidence that indicates exoneration. That’s how you get people to start buying into your message, even before you tell it.
Timing is another factor to consider when pressing the truth. Many times, it’s advantageous to pre-empt negative accusations or coverage that you know are coming your way. If you get to the press first and communicate your story before it’s told by others, then you’re the one providing the context.
When you provide the narrative, it’s like you’re painting a landscape. Others have to work within the confines of the borders you’ve established, and the nuance of language that you use can color their opinion. Accusers have to then react to your story, and not vice versa.
There’s another reason why it can be smart to state your case as soon as possible. By addressing key areas of controversy right out of the gate, and framing them with your explanation, it becomes old news, and that’s what you want. You want people to digest the story in one sitting, and then let the 24-hour news cycle move on to something else.
So, if you’ve got bad news, tell it first, and tell it all, instead of painfully have it emerge in dribs and drabs. It may be a bitter pill to swallow, but just do it. Because what you don’t want is to have further accusations keep popping up. If that’s the case, people will continue to talk about it, and that’s never a good idea.
I hope these tips will be of service to you when preparing to confront the inevitable crisis situation that will come your way. But before that time comes, take your own next best step, and contact Red Banyan today. Together, we can develop a crisis management plan that can help keep you protected and prepared.
—Evan Nierman, Founder and CEO of crisis management firm Red Banyan