Who you gonna call?

You're in the middle of the biggest crisis your company has ever seen. Everyone in the United States and the world is coming down hard on you. No one is on your side. What do you do?

First off, what is a crisis? A crisis is a major occurrence with a potentially negative outcome affecting the organization, company, or industry, as well as its publics, products, services, or good name. (M. Caudill, WCU)

So, it's pretty devastating and damaging. It's hard, but you can deal with it!

What happens during a crisis?

  • Breakdowns
  • Doubts
  • Fearfulness
  • Loss of trust
  • Panic
  • Despair

When everyone else is freaking out during a crisis, YOU as the PR professional must hold it together! Hold it together and break down, if you must, later. You have to be strong for the team! Reach for your CCP, pull it together, assemble your team, and reach out to the public and the media.

Media: During a crisis the media will find you. Don't avoid them, it will only make things worse. A negative story is more newsworthy than a positive one.

Key: Make sure YOU stay in control. You can always say "no more questions at this time" and move on.

A few questions the media WILL ask:

  • What happened?
  • Were there any deaths or injuries?
  • What is the extent of damage?
  • Why did it happen?
  • Who or what is responsible?
  • What is being done about it?
  • When will it be over?
  • Has it happened before?
  • Were there any warning signs of the problem? (M. Caudill, WCU)

Three choice responses, NEVER say "No Comment." Always say something! Here are a few guides:

1. We know & here's all the information...

2. We don't know everything at this time. Here's what we do know. We'll find out more & let you know

3. We have no idea at this time, but we'll find out & tell you. (M. Caudill, WCU)

It is perfectly okay to admit you do not know! Just let them know you will find out and will inform them later.

Now, onto the social media aspect of a crisis. Your company/business/establishment's crisis will hit every news outlet in the country which spreads to Facebook comments, Twitter mentions, blog posts, and more. What do you do about it?

Social media is making crisis management more important in public relations because social media changes everything. Social media is changing the number of crises, the speed of the spread of the crisis, and the response time to the crisis. Whether you and your company want to admit it, social media has a HUGE impact on any form of a crisis situation. The speed of the information flow and the circulation of news 24/7 helps and doesn't help, but it definitely can hurt.

It's so important to remember the reach of social media and the permanence of it. Once anything goes on the web, it stays there somewhere. No matter if you delete anything, someone copied that message, picture, video, etc. Once you put something online it has to potential to be spread to EVERYONE so definitely make sure before you post something, that is what you definitely want out there as a crisis TEAM. Start making these decisions together.

In my opinion, the flow of open communication is super important during a crisis. Let's look at the Domino's case right here in NC. When former Domino's employees in Conover, NC were seen by over a million people in a couple of days via YouTube video of them putting cheese up their nose, spitting on pizzas, and so much more, Domino's had a huge crisis.

Their sales dropped significantly and people lost trust in Domino's. How did Domino's respond? Twitter account @dpzinfo and Domino's U.S.A. president, Patrick Doyle, issued an apology on YouTube. They did an excellent job addressing the public via social media and right where the crisis began.

Read more about this crisis via Time Magazine at http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1892389,00.html#ixzz0pRAI8t4v.

To respond or not to respond? Well that is up to you, the social media team, and the bosses at your company, but if you don't respond and you just ignore the crisis and hope it goes away... that will look pretty bad on your part because it leaves a lot of unanswered questions and the more you don't talk, the more others will and speculation will run rampant. The crisis isn't going away anytime soon!

So, lessons learned:

  • Be prepared to respond to the media, they are coming.
  • You have to hold it together as THE public relations professional during this crisis.
  • Have a plan ready for any kind of possible crisis you could have. KNOW the plan and review it every 6-12 months, especially as new members come to your team.
  • Use social media to respond, don't ignore the crisis because it is not going away.
  • Be responsible and appropriate in your response.

See my crisis communication plan for the WCU Athletic Department under my portfolio section.

PowerPoints used for this post: Crisis Slides 1 and Crisis Slides 2