Crisis communications: Have a plan, don’t panic, be smart

February 15, 2008 at 7:12 pm Leave a comment

Chris Scott

Let’s face it: There’s a reason why “crisis communications” is a PR specialty that not every firm offers.

You see clients at their worst since responses are, as a rule, hasty, reactionary and dissected by all. It’s a pressure cooker for the agency charged with managing the situation because of the need to respond quickly and smartly – often in circumstances where the client is disinclined to follow its advice. And in addition to traditional media scrutiny, there are customers to consider, who have increasing word-of-mouth clout making them even more difficult to manage than the press.

But helping companies deal with the PR maelstrom created by recalls, product tampering or embarrassing behavior by top executives is part of an extremely important job, one that most companies are smart enough to not handle on their own.

Just ask officials at Wendy’s, who in 2005 had to deal with a customer claiming that she bit into a human finger in a bowl of chili. While the woman was eventually convicted of attempted grand theft and conspiracy in the fraudulent claim, the chain reportedly lost $2.5 million in sales thanks to the bad publicity. In essence, even proper handling of the incident still hammered Wendy’s reputation and its bottom line.

So what’s a smart company to do? The worst response, obviously, is to bury one’s head in the sand and hope the crisis will just go away. It’s also not a good idea to test the public’s (or the media’s) sense of trust when addressing the situation. Did absolutely no one at Mattell – anywhere – know that a manufacturing plant in China was using lead paint on Dora the Explorer and her buddies? And tread lightly with “dark blogs,” which are designed to be activated when a crisis happens. Their credibility is questionable since they often come off looking pre-packaged and not necessarily a direct response to the issue at hand.

A better idea is to consider crisis communications like your relationship with the dentist: Brushing and flossing every day will make you better prepared in the event a tooth unexpectedly chips or breaks. Likewise, having a concrete plan in place and not panicking once the crisis erupts can prevent the situation from becoming a catastrophe.

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Entry filed under: Crisis Communications.

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