When you’ve been advising leaders through PR crises as long as I have, you know that there are very few media situations that can be made to “go away.” Experience has shown me that the companies and leaders who enjoy solid reputations after a PR crisis have not avoided negative attention, they built confidence and trust as they journeyed through it.
What’s their secret?
- Successful leaders assemble their thoughtful reputation management partners and train their internal teams before they need to
- Successful companies are clear on their vision, values and mission; and foster a culture of service, results, and thoughtful actions that enhance their reputation every day (not just when a PR crisis emerges)
In a PR crisis, you must quickly turn to people you trust. My team and I are lucky to be on speed dial for some of the most respected leaders and organizations in San Diego County. Daily, we’re learning about each other, establishing who-does-what, holding trainings, crafting messaging, and aligning goals long before the first emergent media inquiry or crisis communications need.
We work daily with our client partners including universities, community colleges, non-profits, corporations, real estate developers, and theme parks, so that we can confidently take on what will inevitably come tomorrow. We’re ready.
Are you ready for a PR crisis? Consider this:
- Find someone you trust … and genuinely like. You’re going to call this person on your worst and most vulnerable days; make sure you prioritize trust and personality fit. Keep in mind that in a PR crisis, your brain is also processing emotion and stress at a higher level making you more “authentic,” whether you like it or not. Your outside reputation partner must be a person you trust to see the real you that will surface under pressure.
- Go to battle with someone who shares your values: These days, many media and PR crisis situations are the result of someone (or some group) being offended or outraged by a misalignment of values. Communicating who you are and what you believe in when you’re under fire is not for the faint of heart. It is made a little easier when you know your crisis PR partner shares your commitment to your mission, customers, state laws, ethics, policies, etc.
- Seek a PR partner who shares different opinions. This is the true value proposition of the outside partner: we can say things to you that your in-house comms pros likely do not feel like they can. Remember, the job of your outside partner is to bring you different thoughts, perspective, strategies, and a confidence boost; they are not there to agree with everything you say. In a crisis, you need absolute honesty and if you trust your partner you will understand the spirit in which this straight talk is offered up.
- Get smart on your scenarios. This is more difficult than it seems, as colleagues often feel that if they share something “negative” it will be interpreted as lack of faith in the organization or leadership. I am a consistent combo of inherent optimist and straight shooter. So, I ask you, reader: as a leader, what keeps you up at night when you think about your company’s reputation? What keeps your legal team on edge? What lingering thought is in the back of your board chair’s mind? What is the worst that can happen to your reputation? Brutal honesty in these answers is not lack of faith, it’s forward-thinking. Poll your people and make an intentional plan.
- Start now, together. Today, ask your in-house communications pros what skills, strengths, and bandwidth they would need to do their best work in a PR crisis. If you have an outside partner you are bringing to the table, make sure that person is respected and trusted by your in-house teams — this is a must! If you don’t have someone in mind, let your in-house team lead the search and bring you recommendations.
The saying goes, “If you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready.” When you’re secure in your foundation and have a day-to-day reputation-minded culture, you can be intentional and successful in your effort to build confidence and trust through a crisis whenever it comes…because it very likely will.