Crisis Control

People often ask me (mystified) what being in PR is like. What do I really do all day? I’ll usually give them my go-to answer about helping my clients spread the word of their good deeds (which is completely true, mind you). But I’ve come to find out that people really want to know what it’s like for me to live life as Olivia Pope—the fictional fixer of crises.

While most of my work life is not spent in crisis mode, it’s true that a number of times crisis management/mitigation skills are needed. In my nearly 15 years in PR, I’ve handled many different kinds of crises. While each has its own twists that requires a slightly different strategy, they all have a few things in common.

The ECPR team is skilled at crisis management. We always keep a few basics in mind when we’re working to mitigate a crisis. They include:

  • Gather everyone “in the know” to collect the facts. As PR professionals, we can help only as much as we know. The trust built with your PR team—internal and external—is important. We cannot truly help a situation when we don’t know all the facts. We understand that these facts cannot always be shared thoroughly, but we must have a complete and honest picture in order to determine the best course.
  • Rip the Band-Aid. In my 8+ years at ECPR, I’ve heard this phrase probably a hundred times. It’s important to get as many of the facts out there as quickly as possible. People appreciate transparency. The truth has a way of coming out. Don’t hide key details because you think it will look bad. The quicker the unflattering news is out, the faster you can deal with it and hopefully move on. As they say, the truth will set you free, right?
  • If you’re in the wrong, apologize (and mean it). While this has become the norm in a crisis these days, it’s still important to remember. The challenge now is that you want to be sure you’re sincere. People and companies are quick to apologize, but those words need to have meaningful context. Being sensitive to the crisis and showing humility will go a long way.
  • Demonstrate change. Inevitably, if there’s a crisis, that means something didn’t go as it should have. It’s important to show that a lesson was learned and what steps the company will take to ensure it doesn’t happen again. This acknowledgement requires a lot of transparency and humility.

The tips above are, of course, an over-simplified strategy. But they’re good places to start when planning a course of action, and these are great reminders for clients in crisis. Here’s one last tip for fellow PR pros: remain calm. Your client is probably worried about the outcome; it’s up to us to walk them through the process to arrive at the best possible end point.

Levente McCrary is a vice president of account management with Elizabeth Christian Public Relations.

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