When we talk about debacles, mishaps, accidents, crimes, disasters, or fiascos, media strategy and focused crisis concepts should be part of crisis management training – for communications division staff members in any size company. Handling a crisis once it can be very complex. However, when plans are in place beforehand, businesses can rise above any unexpected situation.
What's the first thing a communications division should say when answering questions about a media debacle? If the plan is not to make a statement, it will only leave the media to form their hypothetical stories. Having a prepared statement means planning ahead and knowing what you are going to say if there is ever an emergency.
When you have a plan of action, it means having the ability to withstand a crisis within minutes. Implementing a media plan in case of a crisis is like putting together a playbook of protocols where you take full responsibility. An important factor for preparedness recovery is that a crisis can hit any company, no matter the size, notoriety, services, or reputation. We saw these types of missteps happen with the food-safety crisis of Chipotle, a communications debacle of Paula Deen, and the emissions "defeat device" crisis at Volkswagen.
When Bad Things Happen to Good Companies
If you are, for example, a reputable law firm and your organization are being accused of over-billing customers, then it needs to be addressed immediately. Furthermore, if the person is charged with an alleged crime and is the son of the CEO, then you have another problem. If the son of the owner happens to be married to a financial CEO on Wall Street, that's another story to answer for the media. In other words, the crisis can lead to one story after another, and then another. We see this happen in the press often, where one story leaks out, then other information leaks out, and you have a messy list of fake stories and lots of negative spins.
Social Media Helps Spin the Spin
Today, with Twitter, Facebook, Huffington Post, CNN, MSNBC, Daily Beast, The Nation, Fox News and other media portals, your story reacts like a runaway train. By nine in the morning, when offices are beginning to open, your story is already out and spinning in every direction online. If you have more than twenty-five employees and you work with the public, it's always a good idea to have a media plan of action in place. If you do not, now is the time to begin the process of developing one.
Where Can We Start?
Regardless of the situation, there are key touch-points to consider when you're asked to write a crisis communications playbook. They include:
· Never speak to the media without a statement prepared in advance.
· Call upon those persons involved in the crisis and have a meeting of the minds.
· Make sure others in the division keep the media at a distance until you can assess what to say and not say when you meet with them.
· Know the facts before speaking to the media and be sure nothing of substance is being left to spin.
· If the statement is written and prepared beforehand, the media can not take your words and rewrite the story.
· It's always better to call a press conference (if needed) or send a press statement to media before they write their storylines.
· Stay on top of the issue and be prepared to make another statement or send out follow-ups once you have an opportunity to discuss the matter further with your group / team.
· Remember, these days, whatever your statement is will remain posted on search engines, and there is no taking it off later. So prepare to write a playbook about how to respond in the event of a crisis. What's important is that most companies do not have crises very often. But when and if you do, you want to be prepared. It's better to have a playbook and not need to implement the plan than to need it and not have one.
I'm not sure if companies today realize how essential it is to have a crisis communication plan that outlines specific steps to be taken within the first hours of a crisis? The playbook should spell out the where's and how's of who will serve as the spokesperson, what will be said and not said, and when it should be stated.
Making an official statement means having the fact sheets ready to hand out ahead of time. An excellent crisis plan is everything you need, when you need it, ready to go, located in one place. Dealing with a crisis is easier to recover from when your company is prepared.