A PR disaster

A prevalent genre of PR industry news is criticizing whatever company is dealing with the latest so-called “PR disaster.”

These tweets, blog posts, and trade pub articles start from the premise that the PR team involved has been screwing up from the first minute and that the impacts of the crisis will be major and long-lasting. This grows out of a (misguided) belief among many PR pros that “if anyone is unhappy with us, that’s bad PR.”

I don’t read most of those posts. Instead, I analyze crises from a different set of first principles:

  • Who are this company’s key audiences? What do THEY think about this development?
  • What are the things that could have made this even worse that the crisis team has managed to mitigate?
  • What are the factors that have been out of the communicators’ control? How have they handled the hand they’ve been dealt?

Looking at crisis communications through this more realistic lens gives you a better chance to derive takeaways you can actually apply during your own future crises. Because those don’t follow a PR textbook. Contrary to the high expectations of those who write those posts, here’s what usually happens:

  • Your executives usually aren’t enlightened enough to bring you in early.
  • Despite your best efforts to educate and persuade, they don’t always listen to your advice about what to stop doing and start doing.
  • Even when you’re professional about handling bad news, media don’t always report it fairly.

The best chance you have to reduce the likelihood of those three bullets above is to get buy-in for a solid crisis communications plan in advance.

If this is your organization’s first crisis plan in a while (very few have one at all), then yours should be super-short and to the point. The primary outcomes you’re seeking are simply establishing yourself as a key part of your company’s response and making sure you understand the lines of authority for making decisions and communicating them.

Crisis communications plans are one part of our craft where you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Savvy and experienced pros have honed them over the years to produce proven key elements for success.

My Inner Circle members learned these elements during our recent training on this topic. Our guest expert has managed more than 200 crises and written more than 30 plans. He was generous enough to share his crisis plan template so they can write or refine their own.

You can watch that training and get that template if you decide to join the Inner Circle. We’re currently closed for new enrollments, but you can register for our Wait List to get more information and find out when we open next.

Either way, resist the urge to pile on when you read about the next “PR disaster.” Instead, imagine yourself in the fire and consider what you’ll take away from their experience. Because someday, that will be you.

This article was originally published on November 10, 2021

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