Despite the best of intentions, the best of behaviour, and the best of staff, things can go wrong. And they can go wrong spectacularly. And when they do it can feel like you're in the middle of a hurricane, being buffeted by criticism and negativity and that it will never ever end and things will always be bad.
Take a breath. Things will nearly always be ok.
Not going to lie, sometimes crises will be so bad that someone will lose their job, or even worse a company will go under or worst of all someone could lose their life.
But you should still take a breath.
If you're a high profile company or individual then there will be media attention. You can't avoid that, and you can't control all of it. But what's important is to take control of what you can control.
Take a breath.
Don't deal with hypotheticals. It's so important to gather up all the facts that you can. And if you don't know something, don't be afraid to say you don't know yet but you're trying to get all the information. Be honest. Be upfront. Be forthright.
There's a hierarchy of things to check on:
- Staff/people affected - are they ok? These people should be your #1 priority. Everything else can wait, including media calls.
- What facts do we have immediately? What do we know for sure? If we're unsure about something, either don't say anything on that subject or say you're unsure - don't deliver half-truths or assumptions. These could come round to bite you.
- Who's the spokesperson? Who's in the crisis team? It's important to have clear roles and for people involved in the crisis to know what those roles are.
- Are stakeholders being told what's going on? Stakeholders could be staff, customers, shareholders, etc. These are people to whom you would normally communicate. The media also feature here, though the media are usually a channel to reach stakeholders.
- What channels are we able to use to communicate? We can talk to media, sure, but we can also use social media to communicate out if it's urgent - Facebook posts, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat are good at delivering instant information but only if it calls for it. Otherwise it's probably best to lay off the social for a while, particularly if you're being buffeted by criticism.
The key thing to remember if you're under attack is that this will pass. And don't go looking for every piece of negative coverage about you or your organisation that you can find. Because you will be the only person reading *everything*. Most people will read only a small portion and a lot of people won't read any. It's best to engage the services of someone or an organisation who can help you objectively, one that won't be as emotionally invested as you because they will be able to identify what are real blazes that need putting out, and what are just glowing embers that can be left. Not every piece of misinformation is worth chasing to correct, but some certainly are.
Now with Twitter et al magnifying PR crises it can feel a million times worse, but while the crisis can hit harder and faster than ever before, the nature of social media means that these crises usually pass faster than ever before too; because something else will come along.
If you say you're going to do something, make sure you do it. If you or your company is at fault apologise. Recently Dan Carter was pulled over and found to be over the limit for alcohol. This is terrible and drunk driving is never ok, but Dan's conduct after was exemplary. He owned his mistake, admitted it and apologised. He even accepted that he deserved to lose his sponsorship with Range Rover - I spoke about this with the NBR (behind a paywall) on NBR Radio (not behind a paywall) if you want to hear more on this.
Perhaps the best thing you can do is prepare. Well in advance. Know who your crisis team will be. Have a third party on-hand who is expecting your call if you need them. Have your processes set out in a manual somewhere so that people can go to that and know what to do.
We never think it will happen to us, but if it does it's better to be prepared than not.