What many people don’t know is that my college degree is actually in public relations. That’s right >> I spent four years learning how to write the perfect press release, design media kits, pitch radio stations and use metrics to inform my PR strategies. Every single little thing I learned during my time at University of Miami has come into play during my decade-long career in social and digital media. I’ve always said that social and digital are mainly traditional PR put online. We are all trying to tell a story, manage reputations and sell an idea. As I’ve grown my career to managing clients and writing strategies across a variety of industries, I find myself going back to what I learned in my PR courses time and time again. Good business comes from knowing people, understanding people and being able to proactively and reactively respond to many different situations.
You see where I’m going with this. Public relations is BY FAR the most important tool when it comes to crisis management. YES, social and digital can get the message out there, but they are not the ones writing the message. PR pros are trained to predict how people are going to react and how to influence people to make decisions. These are two skills you NEED when you are diffusing a crisis situation. You need that seasoned pro who has spent their career reading people and situations and learning how to use words to the advantage of the company’s reputation. TRUST THEM. I cannot say this enough. Some of the biggest crises have been only fueled by CEOs and others not listening to the advice of their PR staff. Think of the PR team as a team that has just a little more insight than you do on this particular matter, no matter how much of a know-it-all you are!
With that being said, the VP of PR should arrive in the war room equipped with online and traditional sentiment of the crisis, most popular public reactions so far, popular keywords being used in-conjunction with crisis, potential ways the crisis can play out, talking points for each of those potential ways and a rough draft idea of what the statement from the company should say. See what I mean when I say this is THE cook of the crisis management kitchen?? I am sure you are already predicting how closely the social media team needs to work with the PR team in this particular moment. Their jobs are practically falling on top of each other’s during crisis management.
The VP of PR should also always have a short-list of publications, TV producers, etc. to contact FIRST when a crisis breaks. These are the people that you know have a good relationship with the brand and a high reach. On the contrary, you should also have a prepped list of haters with high reach that are sure to target your company during a crisis, and monitor them 24/7 (even before a crisis happens) so you are not blindsided.
Not only should the head of PR arrive to the war room with all of the above info, they also should be prepared to constantly refresh and update every single piece of that info as the crisis evolves, which they always do. If people on CNN are suddenly talking about WAY B that we thought the crisis could go, then the talking points and statement for WAY B already need to be approved and ready to go.
This points back to the concept of the war room. It’s essential to come out of this meeting with every single approval you can think of needing from the CEO, as they will most likely be buried and not able to respond as quickly as you need to as the crisis changes course. They also should leave the room having handed over suggested messaging for social media and digital. This will help save a lot of headaches moving forward.
Some tools that I have found CRITICAL for social/digital/PR to align during a crisis include:
When a crisis breaks, you need alerts ASAP sent to your cell phone. Sprout has a perfect option to handle this across teams and organizations. You can even continue the workflow within Sprout to know if someone already saw something and flagged it.
Content needs to be created so much quicker than you could ever imagine it needs to be created during a crisis. I always set-up templates for crisis management in Canva, so they are already approved (minus plugging the messaging in) and ready to go if a crisis happens. Canva has an awesome mobile app that I have created content for BIG BRANDS on, and you’d never know it came from a mobile phone. Perfect for crisis management which rarely happens during business hours.
Promo is the Canva of videos, as one of my good friends loves to say. You can grab videos quickly that are professional and ready to use for your brand.
COMMUNICATION IS KEY. I don’t care if it’s Slack, text messaging, email, WHATEVER. Agree on one way for multiple teams to communicate during crises and have monthly drills to make sure all team members have access and know how to use the platform.
Crisis communications is all about having a plan BEFORE the crisis occurs, so when emotions and the instability of the crisis rear their ugly heads, you still have a solid plan to refer to in the chaos.
– Marji J. Sherman