Every week there is a new story that splashes over the virtual headlines of the inner-webs. Sometimes there are as many as 4 or 5 stories.
In fact, if there is enough pizzazz or salaciousness involved, your story gets front and center pretty quickly and can stay there for awhile, even if you don’t want it to.
How do you cope when the “news of the week” is about your company and it’s not good?
This week zoo workers made the decision to end the life the Gorilla Harambe after a 3 year-old fell into the zoo exhibit. Naturally this has resulted in a flurry of media and more notably, ample public outcry with a multitude of differing opinions.
In any crisis, PR or not, the key is to keep calm. Nothing good ever happens when you’re frenzied. Take a deep breath, relax, and let the planning begin.
The first step is to get your communications team together, which is anyone who will be forward-facing to the public or your customers since your PR team is your communications command center. Write out the facts and determine what your statement will be. Even though sometimes statements are only a few sentences long, sitting together to discuss what those 2-3 sentences will help center your thoughts.
Statements should state the facts and provide a direct and sincere apology or wrap-up about those facts. Take responsibility if required and own the process to fix what has to be fixed.
Honesty is the Best Policy
People are bright (and skeptical), so always be completely honest and direct. If your company is part of bad news that has gone viral, it doesn’t do anyone good to cover it up. The truth will come out, and the sooner you come forward with a direct and apologetic statement, owning up to what happened, the sooner you can start putting all of the drama behind us.
In this meeting, you must determine the exact statement to the public and who the authorized spokespeople are on the subject. Another good practice would be to come up with a list of potential questions, develop and practice the responses together. Even if you have to practice in front of a mirror, go for it! The more practice the better. Once the cameras are in front of you, if you’re not prepared, the nervousness will quickly creep up and show through in the interview.
In the case of Harambe, the zoo’s media release that recapped the incident that lives on their website is succinct in sharing the key details to what happened, coupled with a quote from the Zoo Director and what visitors can expect from the zoo in the near future. Simple, respectful and to the point.
Be Data Driven
Joe Friday had it right when he demanded witnesses to give him “just the facts.” Emotions will be running high. People will be taking sides. The talking heads will criticize how you handled things. Pay them no mind.
Stick to the facts. Be data driven. Admit fault if it makes sense. Never be overly emotional but don’t be a robot either. Stressful and tense times call for calm, cool and collected responses so that the situation does not spiral out of control.
Create a timeline of events so that everyone knows what happened and when. This is critical to not only getting the facts straight but it will allow others to validate assumptions and debunk all the thrash that happens when a story first comes out.
What sort of data should be provided? If there is an accident at a plant, provide that clear timeline recount of what happened and any relevant numbers associated. If there was a product recall, provide the product information and the numbers of items recalled and in what regions.
At the very least, if your situation does not lend itself to a lot of statistics, numbers or other types of data, a recap of the timeline is the best form of “data” to provide to the public.
Follow the News Cycle
Most of the time you and your company will not be front and center in negative news fodder, and in those moments, you may still want to take advantage of the news cycle. There is a fine line between joining a conversation to be helpful versus exploiting the opportunity, so before you make any moves, always tread carefully and put thought into it.
Animal activists, child and parent groups and other zoos obviously have the opportunity to provide comment and are probably reached out to for quotes. Products marketing towards parents could take advantage of this news cycle as well, especially in regards to child safety. We must learn the lessons but never take advantage of a tragedy or we are bound to make the same mistakes.
About the Author
Jane Yin is the founder of JSY PR & Marketing where she has worked with clients such as Yao Ming, Amar’e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony, Marshawn Lynch as well as non-profits such as Emergency USA and Bay Area Anti-Trafficking Coalition and several stealth mode startups. She has extensive experience building PR & Marketing campaigns that have lasting impact and would love to reveal the 7 PR secrets every founder should know but are not told to you.