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Crisis PR

In times of emergency, it can be easy to lose your head when communicating with clients and the public. Richard Wightman, head of corporate marketing at ITE Group shares his advice on how - and how not - to react when crisis strikes.

It’s a shame that there has to be a crisis in order to get involved with crisis PR. It’s fast-moving, it tests character, skills and the ability to make decisions. It also pulls teams together and can be very exciting. The obvious downside is that it normally coincides with something going horribly wrong. 

A decade ago, crisis PR was less challenging. It was normal for companies or individuals to avoid awkward situations by rolling out the classic “no comment”. They would manage their communication at their own pace. The digital era has changed everything. An immediate response is now an expectation and the worst response to a situation is no response at all. 

Planning

The planning process has to consider a multitude of scenarios. The best way is to imagine what would happen if, for example, a venue caught fire on a Monday night and three people were missing. You have to have an idea about how to react, who to tell – and the consequences of your actions. People and companies that react well to unforeseen circumstances can keep their reputations intact.  

Think fast, keep calm

Another essential element is a clear head. We’re all human and emotions can be running high, but hysteria isn’t going to help. Equally, you should be sensitive, but not over-emotional in your messages to the outside world. Remember that keeping calm not only helps you do your job better, it influences the emotions of your colleagues – and helps them to do their jobs better too. 

Gather information

If you’re involved in crisis PR, you need the best available information – and you need to be informed immediately of any changes. More accurate and up-to-date information helps the decision-making process and reduces the chance of releasing news that is obsolete or obviously wrong. 

Show you care

Often, a crisis coincides with personal turmoil. People might be severely troubled, emotionally and/or physically. Anyone with a reputation worth keeping intact should always demonstrate that they care about the situation primarily on a human level. Acknowledging the impact on the business is important, but not as important as the immediate impact on people’s lives. 

Use lots of channels

In a digitally connected world, there are many communication channels to use in order to reach your intended audience. Whilst there is no single communication solution, it would be a good idea to make your website your hub, and drive traffic to the relevant page using a range of social media, press releases, emails, internal communications and links from other sites, etc. 

Be consistent

The speed at which a crisis develops can be confusing – and it doesn’t help if your messages add to the confusion. Co-ordinate the process, keep everyone who needs to be informed up to speed with the latest developments. One of the best ways to achieve consistency is to appoint a single spokesperson to control the messaging and manage the communication effort.

Work with the facts and be honest

You have to accept that in the midst of a crisis you might be working with limited information, but don’t communicate anything based on assumptions or opinions – base your messages on what you know to be true. Equally, a crisis is not a time for ‘spin’. The only opportunity it provides is a chance to demonstrate your ability to deal with a difficult situation professionally and sensitively. Downplaying, or conversely sensationalising a situation to suit your own needs, carries a huge risk to your reputation. Anyone remember ‘Comical Ali’?

This was first published in the May issue of Exhibition News. Any comments? Email Annie Byrne