As a rule, crisis communication is not a topic that comes up in everyday conversation. In fact, most of the general population is not even aware that this highly specialized branch of public relations even exists. Speaking of which, many of us only have a vague sense of the significant role PR itself plays in nearly every aspect of today’s society.
Actually, that under-the-radar presence of public relations is purely intentional—the most effective PR campaigns are sometimes the ones that people don’t even know are working.
No, not many people have a clue about public relations for a crisis. And most couldn’t care less. That is, until they have an actual crisis on their hands themselves. And trust us, a crisis will befall each and every one of us. It’s not a matter of if, but when. And when that inevitable crisis flares up and threatens to engulf you, or your organization, that’s the time you’ll probably wish you knew more about the crisis PR solution you will undoubtedly need.
That is why we’ve prepared this guide. As one of the nation’s leading crisis communications firms, Red Banyan wants you to know what to look for in a crisis expert, should what kind of service you should expect, and a recommended approach to take to help you prevail in a crisis situation, whether it’s personal or professional. Let’s get started.
What is Considered a Crisis?
First of all, how do you know you’re in a crisis? Think of it this way: anything that could make you or your company look bad, or isn’t delivering the message and image that you want—that’s potentially a crisis situation.
If you sense something isn’t right, but you’re still not sure what is considered a crisis, contact a crisis manager and ask. In some cases, it may not rise to a level where action is needed, but it’s better to be sure.
It doesn’t have to be bet-the-farm stakes. A single negative Google review can have a snowball effect. A crisis can be anything that’s going to give people an inaccurate view of you or your organization. That’s the definition, and if it sounds like what you’re going through, don’t just wish the problem would go away. Instead, take positive steps toward keeping your reputation intact and discuss your situation with a crisis counselor.
Without question, the best time to consult with a crisis communications firm is when no crisis is imminent. Why? Because preventing a crisis is a lot easier that resolving one. Also, it’s a certainty that you and your stakeholders will spend a lot more money on crisis PR and legal bills during a crisis event than beforehand. That’s why Red Banyan assigns a crisis pr task force to your case and provides a crisis audit as one of our core offerings.
A comprehensive audit can accurately assess and provide tips on what’s most likely to create problems for your organization, before they happen. That way, you’ll be better positioned to put a process in place that can help keep your organization crisis-free. At Red Banyan, our team will address any areas of concern specific to your situation. We’ll then help you develop a working strategy and conduct training with people in your organization, so they’ll know how to take action if and when the time comes.
Next Steps: Trust the Process
Once we get a call, we assign a task force to assess the key elements of the crisis and run it through our proprietary checklist. Given our experience, it’s likely we’ve worked through very similar situations, with nearly identical cause and effect patterns, literally hundreds of times. Your crisis may be new to you, but it won’t be new to us.
Our agency task force then develops a threat matrix that’s unique to the event and maps it against what’s hot in the news at the time. We do this to determine what level of media attention the situation would expect to receive, and how we should engage with the press.
We then advise our clients to designate a spokesperson who’s an expert in dealing with reporters to speak on their behalf. To help influence the outcome of a story, it’s vital that communication with the press be handled in a highly professional way, by someone who knows how to take the lead. That’s where the skills of an experienced crisis manager can be invaluable. Often, we take on the spokesperson role.
Once your spokesperson is in place, a company in a crisis situation should adhere to a process that we at Red Banyan call the three Fs: Foul Up, ‘Fess Up and Fix Up. The first one is easy enough. It’s the error, intentional or not, that triggered your crisis in the first place.
Then you need to ‘fess up. That means acknowledging your wrongdoing, and taking full responsibility for it. Monitor the situation to see how potentially damaging it could be, but don’t run from your obligation to tell the truth. Admittedly, this confession may be painful, but you have to swallow that bitter pill.
What you don’t want to do is lie by omission, or fail to address any negative accusations from the outset. Because if any further accusations keep popping up, it keeps the story in the news cycle. People will continue to talk about it, instead of it becoming old news, and that is not the response you’re looking for.
And lastly, to get any kind of closure and move on from your crisis, you need to fix up. And that involves thinking through and providing a concrete response, meaning action—not just words. And whatever you say you’re going to do to make amends, you better make darn sure you deliver on your promise, because the media will be watching.
Crisis PR Media Training: A Necessary Skill
When you’ve been selected as a spokesperson designated to manage public relations for a crisis, it’s a huge responsibility. And as with anything, there’s a right way and a wrong way to handle the situation. Fielding questions from seasoned reporters while promoting your agenda is not intuitive; it has to be learned. Presenting your case in the face of unflinching media scrutiny is not the place for on-the-job training.
That’s why Red Banyan instituted media training as another essential service we offer our clients. As experts, we teach people to think like reporters, how to anticipate questions they’re most likely to face—and perhaps most importantly, we provide invaluable tips on how to respond to difficult or challenging questions.
When key stakeholders go through our training, they have to put theory into practice. That means we put them in front of the camera, and record them as they respond to simulations of high-pressure media scenarios. We then go back and monitor the situation, and just like a football coach reviewing game film, we provide the teaching, advice and guidance on how to get better. That’s the definition of media training in a nutshell, and it can go a long way toward keeping your company’s reputation intact.
Final Advice: Hire an Experienced Crisis Management Team
Staying on the topic of reputation, it’s important that you examine the credentials of the crisis PR agency you hire and make sure that their actions are above reproach. At Red Banyan, we hold ourselves to a simple ethical standard: we don’t lie.
There are a couple of reasons we never violate this rule. Reason one, in the short term, you will be found out. And it will happen quickly, because in our instant-information society, facts can easily be checked. The second reason is just basic human decency. No one wants to be the target of disinformation. So, lying is a definite no.
That goes for individuals, organization and crisis managers alike. Because once you’ve ruined your credibility with the public, it becomes that much harder to ever be taken seriously again. So, you can be sure that our team at Red Banyan will always tell the truth. But beyond that vow, we’re committed to do something else on your behalf: we will press the truth.
That’s the approach we take for our clients. Pressing the truth means we don’t just state the facts, we put the full weight of our influence behind a message. For every client we accept and who has a legitimate crisis to contend with, we press their narrative and make sure their story or point of view gets communicated directly to the people who need to hear it. In our experience, there is always something you can do or say on a client’s behalf. And we will work to unearth those nuggets of information and make sure everyone knows about them. When Red Banyan represents an individual, or an organization, we draw upon our years of experience, our strong relationships with the press and media, and our relentless determination to do everything in our power to restore, preserve