The following article is a Guest Post from PR Consultant Alex Lodola. It is the 3rd in a series on PR for bootstrapped startups. You can read the first and second here.
Crises happen, and they spread like wild fire. In such a period, well-coordinated and thought out PR is key. Users/customers will be asking themselves two questions you have to answer: “am I safe?” and “can I trust them?” As far as your strategy is concerned, your objective is to reassure your users/customers all the while minimizing negative press and maintaining a positive image.
Here are a few pointers and guidelines for you to keep in mind…
Be prepared, don’t hide and speak in one voice
The best way to handle a crisis is to be prepared, so, plan ahead. Before any crisis happens, sit down internally and ask yourselves the following questions
- Which person in the company will be in charge of sharing information and coordinating the actions to be carried out? In a time of crisis, this role is best suited for a PR person or CEO
- What are the internal processes that will ensure you speak in one voice and that all communication is consistent throughout the company?
- Given your community, how can you leverage social media in your favor?
The best spokesperson will be a person that feels comfortable under pressure and ready to answer tough questions. More than ever, accuracy will be king in terms of messaging, Q&As and the official reactive statement. Journalists might not have paid much attention before but now that the fat lady is singing they’ll be showing all kinds of love.
Be reactive and focus on the future
The rookie mistake to make in a time of crisis is to wait a day or two to issue a statement. The longer you wait, the worse it gets. Not being reactive can be interpreted as not caring and making light of a situation that is distressing to for your users/customers. As a result, your first statement should be issued as soon as possible, it should acknowledge the issue and focus on what you’ll be doing going ahead. Stay clear of any jargon or obscure writing, remember that your aim is to reassure. Do so by being honest, transparent and determined to solve the problem.
The relationships you’ve invested time into building will be critical. Make sure that your key contacts (journalists, bloggers, influencers, etc.) are up to date with the latest information. Avoid bombarding them with emails, instead, consider setting up a temporary dedicated website that you update as you make progress. Always keep your Community Manager up to date and in the loop, you want your communication to be coherent at all times, across all media.
Looking on the bright side, a crisis does offer the opportunity for a company to demonstrate its sense of ethics and dedication, “son sérieux” as they say here. Facing a crisis is an exercise in humility for any company and the best of companies hit bumps along the road… just make sure you don’t hit any sinkholes…