Monday, August 9, 2010

Learning to Master Crisis Communications

How important is effective public relations? Just ask (now former) BP CEO Tony Hayward.

Over the past couple of months we have seen a slew of events that have underscored the power of public relations. In light of these, crisis communication should now be on any business owner’s radar.

You have famed college basketball coach Rick Pitino, and his alleged ‘tryst’; Target versus the LGBT community; and finally, the event on everyone’s mind: the BP oil spill in the Gulf. In the latter case, Tony Hayward, the now former CEO has stepped down and will be replaced by Bob Dudley (who, might we say, has quite the task on his hands). A series of PR gaffes played a major role in Hayward’s downfall.

What every brand name and business owner needs to think about when following these events: what happened to BP can happen to you. Obviously, we are not talking oil spill/natural disaster stuff; we are talking about an event that challenges a company’s reputation and leadership.

So, what can we all learn from these public relations nightmares? In sum: you must have a crisis communications strategy so you can react quickly and efficiently. You’ll also want a knowledgeable PR pro on your side to represent and help guide you through these waters. Some things to keep in mind:

  • Remain readily accessible to the media. Be ready to answer questions, have a designated person to speak on behalf of the issue.
  • Streamline communication. Make sure all documents are clear, concise, pertinent.
  • Maintain information security. Be sure that company documents aren’t accessible to the public but, at the same time: that you are not hiding anything.
  • Support multi-channel communications. Send out press releases and take advantage of broadcast opportunities. Get savvy with a variety of communication tools like YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and Blogs.
  • Utilize Social Media. In this day and age, these tools can be your friend but also your worst enemy. Word to the Wise: never delete a nasty, harsh comment, it could do more harm then good. Instead, use the negative comment as an opportunity to explain your position; it allows you to engage the commenter to resolve their concerns.
  • Show empathy for the people involved Reach out to the public by making appearances. Find time to answer their questions.

Crisis communication is an important tool for all companies to have in their ‘toolbox for success.’ Crisis communication strategies have helped companies such as: Johnson & Johnson back in 1982 when they had the cyanide scare, Exxon Valdez in 1989 when an oil spill happened in Alaska, Intel’s Math Flaw in 1994 and Jetblue in 2007 when they left passengers stranded on a airport runway in an ice storm. While each faced a tidal wave of public backlash, their response helped keep their brands from drowning in the fury. A strong crisis communication strategy will do the same for you should the worst happen.

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