Crisis communication is becoming an integral part of public relations.
As some point, every company is going to have to quickly switch gears from proactive to reactive, and how the company’s reputation survives often comes down to how it responds. Remember the classic episode of the television show “WKRP in Cincinnati” when the station held a turkey drop from a helicopter? It’s a prime example of a PR stunt gone bad.
WKRP’s Les Nessman, played by Richard Sanders chronicled their last flight:
Though this is a hilarious fictional miscalculation, it’s not too far out of the ordinary. Remember BP’s CEO going sailing with his family after the Gulf of Mexico oil rig disaster, or automotive CEOs taking corporate jets to D.C. to ask for a bailout? You can’t make this stuff up.
When a crisis does happen, a targeted, prompt response that addresses the issue can often diffuse the situation. A coverup response will simply fan the flames.
Here are some crisis communication response tips that might’ve helped WKRP, or other companies, respond to a disastrous PR event:
- Be targeted. Focus messaging on the right audience.
- Be prompt. This shows the company is addressing the issues, and it can diffuse a negative situation from spiraling by presenting the facts early on.
- Be concise but comprehensive. Crisis communication should be compact, delivering a lot of information in a small space and time.
- Be transparent. Perhaps more so than any other content you create, crisis communication must be honest and clear if the company’s audiences are going to trust you to get through the event.
- Be clear. Articulate what the company is doing and, whenever possible, how long the process might take. The latter can be difficult to estimate, so don’t commit to a timeframe if you aren’t sure of it; but if you know a solution is not imminent, it’s best to be honest with customers about that fact.
- Be compassionate. Regardless of the source of the problem, in most issues management situations you have let your customers/consumers/employees down; acknowledge this, and then get to work to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
With regard to the last tip, you may recall WKRP station manager Arthur Carlson’s honest, pained response: “As God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.”
(This post also appears on Ragan’s PRDaily.)