Small Business Crisis Communications, Part 4

In this final part of our series on small business crisis communications, we'll take a look at how best to handle a bad situation while you are in the midst of it...

PR pros agree that less is better when dealing with the media. As mentioned in the last installment, if you can’t verify it, then don’t say it. Wait until you have all the facts before responding.

Check out this YouTube video on the right way to apologize:


At the same time, it’s important to be open and honest in the midst of a fire, a slip and fall, a financial issue or some other PR black eye. Don’t say anything that is not true because it could come back to haunt you. It’s an easy rule, but too many people try to say the right thing and get into trouble.

“Take the lead and take control,” says Vince McMorrow, vice president of public relations for RMD Advertising in New Albany, Ohio. “Too many of the media’s talking heads are ready to comment, take the lead and establish the correct information. Speak with one voice. Using one company spokesperson will keep statements consistent. Finally, get outside the box. Don’t adopt a bunker mentality.  Understand the crisis from every vantage point.”

Denyse Dabrowski, vice president of The Marcus Group, Inc. a Secaucus, N.J.-based public relations firm., says you retain control of the story by announcing both positive and negative information while demonstrating care, concern and empathy for all parties involved. Regardless of the severity of the issue, experts stress avoiding responses born out of stress. Staying calm will help you make better decisions and present a better case to the media.

“Obtain information from the people closest to the incident--beware of information filtering,” Dabrowski says. “Accept that you will not have all the information that you want when you want it. Make decisions and stick to them, but be flexible if the situation changes. And accept the responsibility for the outcome--but not the blame. Then address the issue of reform.”

McMorrow says crisis management requires leadership and teamwork to ride out a difficult storm. The communications to varied audiences requires an objective vision, patience and decisions your team can stand behind. Depending on the situation, McMorrow offers the following “message points” to help explain what happened and the status of the current situation. This, he says, will help you avoid those knee-jerk reactions that Schoff warned against. Here are some talking points:

“When we became aware of the issue, we came forward.”

“We are cooperating fully with authorities.”

“Precautions were in place, but no precaution can stop nature or someone who violates trust.”

“We are working to correct the issues that led to the crisis.”

McMorrow says the spokesperson needs to know the message, package the message, deliver the message with conviction and apologize to anyone affected by this action. If you know what you’re talking about, then the media sound bites take care of themselves. Responding and responding in a timely manner is a point that PR pros emphasize as an absolute must in any situation.


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