Like it or not, at some point in every PR professionals’ career, they become a crisis communications specialist—the hero in whom the company trusts its reputation.
Communicators are in that role for a reason—they can handle it. They know what they’re doing. They’ve been trained by the best. Most importantly, they’ve screwed up once or twice—or have seen someone else screw up—and learned invaluable lessons.
Companies are all different: different product, different cultures, different employee- and client-bases. Crisis communications, and business continuation plans for that matter, are all going to vary in timeline, breadth, and circumstances. Still, there are a crucial points to which a crisis communicator must hold steadfast—not just in the brink of a brand emergency, but at all times.
1. Be nice.
Proactively maintain good media relations. Work with your PR representatives to get to know your friends and your enemies in both local and national media. In essence, you are a salesperson, selling the brand. A soiled relationship stemming from a feature story gone awry can damper any attempts to keep your company’s reputation in a positive light.
2. Look nice.
Sounds superficial, and it is. Executive offices and TV cameras can harp at your self-confidence enough, now imagine that it’s the day you decided to sleep an extra 15 minutes and sacrifice necessary time with the ironing board. If you want to be taken seriously, you have to take yourself seriously—at least keep a jacket at your desk at all times.
3. Be a beacon of trust.
You will be privy to incredible amounts of sensitive business and personal information about the business and its employees. The facts you are given can change lives and affect livelihoods. And everyone around you knows it. Co-workers will pry and managers will cringe, but never, ever say (or write) anything you wouldn’t want found.
4. Have back-up childcare.
Critical incidents don’t care what time day care closes.
5. Play it safe with social media.
We all know this rule “don’t be stupid.” I’m sure the editor of the local newspaper would love to get hold of the picture of your senior-week toga party right before he questions you about a potential environmental impact to the safety of his readership.
6. Practice safe post-mortem.
It ain’t over ‘til you decide it is. Set up monitors—locally and nationally—to consistently reassess the sentiment surrounding your brand. Take time to read the letters to the editor and online commentary. And make others aware when things are bad—and when they get better. Do not let them forget that you’re on top of things. On top of that, work with your PR folks to draft some human interest stories to keep in your back pocket for the wake of the crisis.
7. Study your craft.
Pick two crises a week—one national and one local—and follow the communication techniques. Listen to what reporters ask, look for mistakes, and note good preparation. Conduct mini case studies of the stories surrounding you. You will never get bored.
Katie Kiley Brown is a communications specialist at National Comprehensive Cancer Network® (NCCN®).