What could be better? Something has gone horribly wrong with your business. You know that you are going to have to publicly say something about it, but it’s not going to be pretty. Your reputation is at risk and who knows how it will impact the future of your business? Then, miraculously, there is a natural disaster. People die. Suddenly your bad news doesn’t seem quite as, well, bad anymore.
For years, burying bad news has been a popular PR approach. It was thrust into the public’s attention in 2001, when an email from a Government adviser was leaked which suggested that the terrible attacks of September 11 meant it was “a very good day to get out anything we want to bury”.
Unfortunately, it is cynical decisions like this which give PR people a bad name. Public relations wouldn’t work without a certain amount of spin – you are there to promote a business and generate positive publicity for them after all – but I strongly believe the “burying bad news” approach is not the only answer when something goes wrong.
What else could you do? Well, you could just own up to what has gone wrong. Is it possible that honesty could, indeed, be the best policy?
Crisis management, for that is what we are talking about, is a specialist skill. However, it is also something that every business can, and should, prepare for. The crisis may depend on the size and scale of your business, but the way you deal with it will be fundamentally the same:
· Pre-empt the sticky situation. You know your business best. Spend some time identifying possible areas where something could go wrong. You don’t need to cover every eventuality but, by identifying a few key scenarios, you are laying the groundwork to deal with any crisis you may face.
· Know who your key stakeholders are.Ultimately, the news about your business may spread around the world, but it’s how it impacts your key stakeholders that is most important.
· Have a communication strategy. Plan how you would deal with any issue. Who do the media approach in your organisation. Who would you put forward for interviews? Where would you do these interviews?
· Identify three key messages about your business or project. When you are interviewed, focus on these three key messages and steer all answers back to them. It sounds strange, but actually trying to answer the questions the media is asking will trip you up. By focusing on three key messages, you can retain control, say what you want to say and try to ensure that a positive message is conveyed alongside the negative story.
· Talk to the press. Again, facing a barrage of cameras and microphones may be the last thing you want to do, but facing the media sends out a stronger, more positive message, than hiding away and refusing to comment.
· Do what you can to maintain control of the situation. Find out from the journalists what questions they want to ask you. Who else are they interviewing? Is it a pre-recorded or live interview? When will it be airing? Think about who the audience is going to be and tailor your messages accordingly.
· In the following days, focus on the positives. Remember that this storm will pass. Think about how you can send a positive message to your key stakeholders, reassure them about how you will be taking things forward.
And, rest assured, once the bad news has passed, you won’t find yourself having to bury the bad news that you buried the bad news…
Morwenna Tudor, KMS Marketing and PR Manager