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

16 thoughts on “Who you gonna call?

  1. Great post girl! I just learned some new things about dealing with a crisis. 🙂

    This is definitely great information about what to do during a crisis. It is SO important to respond in some way to the media when a crisis happens. You are right, NEVER say “no comment”. I feel like those are the worst words to say in ANY situation because I feel like it shows a great weakness.

    1. Whenever I hear “no comment” I immediately associate that with guilt. I will never say “no comment.” It is always so important to respond in SOME way before ever ever EVER saying “no comment.” Thanks for your comment and thanks for reading!

  2. Great post girl! I just learned some new things about dealing with a crisis. 🙂
    This is definitely great information about what to do during a crisis. It is SO important to respond in some way to the media when a crisis happens. You are right, NEVER say “no comment”. I feel like those are the worst words to say in ANY situation because I feel like it shows a great weakness.

    1. Whenever I hear “no comment” I immediately associate that with guilt. I will never say “no comment.” It is always so important to respond in SOME way before ever ever EVER saying “no comment.” Thanks for your comment and thanks for reading!

  3. A couple of things I’d add is that as soon as a crisis starts it is imperative to meet with everyone who has a public role in the company. This is to confirm what the message is and who is going to be broadcasting that message. There is nothing worse than seeing a poorly briefed exec wheeled out in front of the media.

    Secondly, there are numerous opportunities to make this is a positive experience – don’t spin things but draw attention to something else during the interview. This should be part of the above meeting.

    Good luck on getting people to say “I don’t know” as there are too many execs that do not want to look stupid on camera.

    Finally, please try and avoid clichés when developing the message. “Lessons shall be learned” or some derivative of that makes me want to throw things at the TV/computer.

    1. Forgot two things, always hold a post-mortem but give it a couple of days for things to cool down.

      Secondly, invite everyone at the initial meeting. Social media can often be overwhelming with the sheer volume of informational requests and comments. It’s a good idea to highlight useful comments and give a brief report on how things went.

      If there was a large amount of volume of social media traffic, now is a perfect time to show evidence of what a socmed warroom looks like during an event. You can either then pitch for a socmed specialist or increase in responsibilities.

  4. A couple of things I’d add is that as soon as a crisis starts it is imperative to meet with everyone who has a public role in the company. This is to confirm what the message is and who is going to be broadcasting that message. There is nothing worse than seeing a poorly briefed exec wheeled out in front of the media.
    Secondly, there are numerous opportunities to make this is a positive experience – don’t spin things but draw attention to something else during the interview. This should be part of the above meeting.
    Good luck on getting people to say “I don’t know” as there are too many execs that do not want to look stupid on camera.
    Finally, please try and avoid clichés when developing the message. “Lessons shall be learned” or some derivative of that makes me want to throw things at the TV/computer.

    1. Forgot two things, always hold a post-mortem but give it a couple of days for things to cool down.
      Secondly, invite everyone at the initial meeting. Social media can often be overwhelming with the sheer volume of informational requests and comments. It’s a good idea to highlight useful comments and give a brief report on how things went.
      If there was a large amount of volume of social media traffic, now is a perfect time to show evidence of what a socmed warroom looks like during an event. You can either then pitch for a socmed specialist or increase in responsibilities.

  5. Lauren,

    You are so dead on in this post. As a former reporter, I can assure you that someone saying “I don’t have the answer for you right this moment, but I will get it to you,” is the next best thing to explaining what happened. That said, you MUST arm whomever is speaking to the media with the information to give at least a 10 second soundbite without sounding like a total idiot.

    Saying “no comment” is akin to taking the 5th. Good in the criminal court, not so much the court of public opinion. “No comment” is turned into “I’m guilty” by pundits, bloggers, and anyone else with a microphone and/or medium to express their opinion. Give out SOME kind of information, even if it’s not very much. Also, denying that the problem is as awful as it appears to be (i.e. Toyota/BP PR strategy) is a sure-fire way to assure your blunder stays on the tip of the tounge for days, if not weeks.

    Again, GREAT post Lauren!

    1. Matt you are SO awesome! Thanks for your wonderful comment! In my crisis class we had to come up with a 15-30 second statement and key messages for a crisis and then say it in FRONT of the camera then answer “reporter” questions. It was a frightening experience to say the least!

      I learned SO much from that class, and like you said, saying “no comment” is the WORST way to go. Say SOMETHING! Also, never use the Toyota/BP strategy that it isn’t as bad as it seems or hoping the crisis will go away, because both of those just make things worse!

  6. Lauren,
    You are so dead on in this post. As a former reporter, I can assure you that someone saying “I don’t have the answer for you right this moment, but I will get it to you,” is the next best thing to explaining what happened. That said, you MUST arm whomever is speaking to the media with the information to give at least a 10 second soundbite without sounding like a total idiot.
    Saying “no comment” is akin to taking the 5th. Good in the criminal court, not so much the court of public opinion. “No comment” is turned into “I’m guilty” by pundits, bloggers, and anyone else with a microphone and/or medium to express their opinion. Give out SOME kind of information, even if it’s not very much. Also, denying that the problem is as awful as it appears to be (i.e. Toyota/BP PR strategy) is a sure-fire way to assure your blunder stays on the tip of the tounge for days, if not weeks.
    Again, GREAT post Lauren!

    1. Matt you are SO awesome! Thanks for your wonderful comment! In my crisis class we had to come up with a 15-30 second statement and key messages for a crisis and then say it in FRONT of the camera then answer “reporter” questions. It was a frightening experience to say the least!
      I learned SO much from that class, and like you said, saying “no comment” is the WORST way to go. Say SOMETHING! Also, never use the Toyota/BP strategy that it isn’t as bad as it seems or hoping the crisis will go away, because both of those just make things worse!

  7. […] This crisis management post explains that some of the key steps to handling a crisis situation include staying in control, always saying something, and using social media to respond. The fake tweeter demonstrates BP’s lack of control, awareness, responsiveness, and ability to successfully communicate with publics using all the tools in the belt. […]

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