Ever open your Inbox to find an email or two from reporters asking for comment on something you know nothing about? If you haven’t yet, but run or manage a business, chances are you will. And even if you don’t have a PR department, you can handle whatever comes your way. First, don’t panic. Next, take a deep breath. Then follow these six steps:
Gather the Facts
Responding appropriately first requires you fully understand the nature of the problem. Find out, in detail, what has gone wrong. Only then can you determine what and to whom you need to communicate, as well as the best ways to get the appropriate messaging across.
As you start to gather your facts, pull together relevant staff and key stakeholders, such as investors and Board members, and fill them in. You’ll need to gather all the facts and prevent others on your team who may have received the same inquiry from responding on their own.
Start to Fix the Underlying Problem
You’ll need a plan to fix what went wrong, first and foremost, for the good of your company. But you’ll also want to let the public know you’re doing what’s necessary to avoid it happening again.
Craft Your Messaging
Develop a formal statement and talking points you and your spokespeople can use to speak with the press. Before distributing them, fact-check them and run them by your legal counsel to avoid potential legal problems.
Address the Issue Publicly
Once you’ve drafted these documents, don’t feel compelled to return every press call immediately. Determine what method for distributing your message would most likely get you the kind of positive coverage you want to generate. Consider a press conference, where you and surrogates can address multiple reporters at once. Or give an exclusive interview to a reporter who’s written favorably about you before.
Monitor Coverage and Respond as Needed
Once you’ve shared your statement and spoken with reporters, keep an eye out for press coverage. Request corrections when necessary. And when coverage is negative, prepare to respond with new statements, testimonials from third-parties, or press releases about good news. Also, watch social media channels where your consumers and stakeholders congregate. Address common questions and misconceptions, but avoid being defensive or responding to trolls.
Following these six steps can help you communicate effectively in times of crisis. Be honest, accurate, and forthcoming, and you’re sure to weather any PR storm.