A crash course in crisis comms.
Crises, both personal and professional, are inevitable. Sure, they’re anxiety inducing, but we can almost always learn from them.
When it comes to handling a crisis, many argue that it’s key to go with your intuition – but that’s only the half of it . . . especially when we’re talking about public relations. In PR, there are tried-and-true methods for responding to backlash, negative press, etc., which all fall under the crisis communications umbrella.
In February, I had the opportunity to head to NYC to attend the Public Relations Society of America’s (PRSA) Master Class in Crisis Communication taught by Helio Fred Garcia. To put it not so lightly, Garcia is a legend within the PR sphere. He’s worked in the industry for more than 40 years, counseling some of the largest and best-known companies and organizations in the world. He’s also founder and president of crisis management firm Logos Consulting Group as well as an adjunct professor at Columbia University.
Over the course of two days (18 hours in the classroom, to be exact), Garcia covered the essential tools, models, questions, and principles to help PR practitioners identify a crisis and develop an effective response. Here are several general learnings that stuck with me:
- Consumers want to see that an organization cares. Therefore, silence isn’t always golden in a crisis response because, yes, silence is perceived as a response – and not always a great one (depending on the scale of the event).
- The more time it takes to respond, the more harm done. Delays in a response or official statement can allow others to get ahead of the narrative, so it’s important that the organization: 1) defines the nature of the crisis and 2) defines its motives and actions in a timely manner.
- It’s OK to apologize. In fact, it’s often encouraged, particularly when “people, from their reasonable perspective, feel victimized and expect an apology” (Logos Consulting Group, 2018). This is also the time to ask yourself on behalf of the organization, “What would reasonable people appropriately expect a responsible organization to do in this situation?” (Logos Consulting Group, 2018).
- Crises follow predictable patterns; therefore, crisis management involves pattern recognition. Feel free to add “Can predict the future” as a skill on LinkedIn.
As for one of the many models and strategies that have been published by Garcia and can often be returned to, “The Four Question Test” by the Logos Consulting Group is a valuable tool we plan to keep in our crisis comms tool kit moving forward.
While this is only a sliver of what Garcia shared, and what crisis communications entails overall, remembering these important lessons and overall themes to crisis response is essential because, as the saying goes, “it’s always when you least expect it.”
Also – before you purchase an encyclopedia on all things crisis related, Crowley Webb PR can help you formulate a crisis communications plan! Reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org if our services could benefit your organization.