When companies retain communications consultants after or just before major news, they miss the opportunity to be strategic and open the door to creating a secondary crisis that could make things even worse. Public relations is not a tactic, it’s a process, and one that needs to be carefully planned and executed now. You aren’t doing your company any favors by hiring a public relations team after the fact.
While PR firms are probably best known for managing PR in the moments right after a negative event has happened, successful crisis management is based on work that happens well before the actual event. A crisis can either be the reason a business fails, or it can be an opportunity to evolve. What you see as a spontaneous reaction is a measured response gauged specifically to effectively handle a bad situation whether it be anticipated or completely unexpected. Behind the scenes PR agencies have already been:
- Researching the brand, the industry, and the climate around it
- Facilitating effective communication and strong relationships between the company and media, including providing media training
- Discussing potential scenarios that could lead to a crisis and how to minimize probabilities
- Aligning clients with specific and tailored strategies in the case of a public crisis
- Creating a crisis communications plan with a clear hierarchy of contacts, specific protocols, and concise verbiage for use with the media, basically a step-by-step guide of what to do if something happens
- Monitoring and managing brand reputation for crisis prevention control to ensure a quick response to mediate developing stories
If or when the event does happen, PR agencies use this information to quickly decide how to manage an incident. They can then move into crisis mode to:
- Gather the appropriate facts
- Respond to media inquiries with consistent, transparent, and honest messaging true to the brand voice
- Provide internal support and communications as needed
- Strategize new branding opportunities to build a positive public perception, developing loyalty and increasing confidence in the brand, especially through positive media exposure
- Monitor public reactions and adjust strategy accordingly
- Show organization as taking the initiative to prevent something similar from happening
Being proactive is key because a fast response is critical. A crisis can happen at any moment. Companies lose valuable time by hiring a PR agency after the fact and expecting that they can make all the bad press and perceptions disappear with a snap of their fingers. Especially in the era of the Internet and social media when everything is in real time. No PR agency is quick enough to jump in after a crisis with limited information about the company and the crisis, as well as surrounding circumstances, and still be effective. By the time they are up to date, many opportunities to guide the narrative have already passed. A slow response or no response at all means the media finds its own story. And now, the PR agency and company are fighting a losing battle.
By embracing your public relations team as part of an ongoing process early, you can work together to prepare, enhancing your credibility and increasing your chances of minimizing or even completely avoiding the impact of potential crises. Because once the damage is done, it is done. While a crisis may be a surprise, your response shouldn’t be. A crisis happening is a matter of when not if. The best time to find a PR firm is before you need one.
Nicholas E. Adams is president & ceo of public relations agency NINICO Communications® with offices in Los Angeles and San Jose.