Recently, I joined my colleagues Alexis and Ramonna to present to members of the Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce on PR in the Digital Age. It’s an interesting concept that many communicators and executives are trying to understand and apply to their business. The emergence of digital and social media has changed the way companies interact with the public. There is an understanding that what people say about you can really build your brand—or do it great harm. That’s what the digital world is all about. It’s changing what we do and what everyone in the market and industry does.
I think it is fair to say that the Internet has affected every one of our clients. There are some companies that have chosen not to embrace social and digital media because of regulatory issues, company history or a host of other reasons. Regardless, all of us are impacted because of how fast news—and misinformation—can spread. When I first started the agency more than 12 years ago, clients could get away with saying, “Let’s not address this issue. It is an isolated incident and it will blow over.” Now, those isolated incidents can blow up in a matter of seconds as a potentially harmful video hits YouTube or a disgruntled employee or customer sends a damaging Tweet. PR in the Digital Age has changed how we counsel clients to protect their reputations and manage crises.
Here are a few of the lessons we shared with the members of the Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce that might be helpful as you continue to think through managing communications in today’s demanding, fast-paced news cycle.
1) Tell the truth: When an issue manifests itself, take the time to observe the facts and respond appropriately to the incident that took place. Gather the brain trust of the company together (including legal, HR, and operations) and develop a clear line of communication that ensures you will offer public information that is as accurate as possible, given the information you have at the time. Steer clear of false assumptions and baseless remarks.
2) Prove it with action: If a mistake has been made, it is important to be mindful of maintaining an honest and open dialogue with your key stakeholders and generating long-term goodwill. This will require a sense of urgency for change; a long-term action plan that assures your audience that you take these issues very seriously. In order to rebuild or maintain credibility, it is important to be thoughtful in your promises and follow up with a status of where you are with your deliverables. If zero action is taken, you run the risk of further harming your reputation.
3) Carefully select your spokesperson: When a serious issue is in front of you, be very selective about the person who is delivering the message. Is this person the most senior person in the company (if the situation warrants it)? Is he or she sincere in the delivery? Is he or she in a position to make promises – and keep them? There must be a sense of urgency, confidence and stability from your leadership or the message will be lost.
4) Remain calm, patient, and steady: It is so easy to get wrapped up in the media speculation or the fodder you see stream across social media. Your communications team must remain calm and poised and have a clear head as to when to respond and when to let the information play out without interference.
Although PR has changed dramatically during the past decade, it is important to remember that adhering to basic PR fundamentals — engaging the stakeholder, responding accurately and efficiently, and following up with relevant information, will never change.