Run away! Run away!

Just checked out a new blog by Sam Oakley All Things PR with reference to a piece by Steve Davies on the Importance of Crisis Management. Sadly this is something we are too often involved with in my business.
For one client of ours it was when a worker was crushed by an articulated lorry. For another, a food manufacturer, it was an investigation by the Food Standards Agency into products suspected of Listeria poisoning. For another, a retailer, it was when a toddler found a Corn Snake in a box of their cornflakes!
The main things is to actually recognise when you have a crisis. Sadly, too many clients think these things can be swept under the carpet. But they can’t – so here’s the advice we offer.
EXPECT THE WORST. Plan ahead for a crisis. You need a business continuity plan to keep operations going in the event of a warehouse fire, systems failure or any other disasters. You should also have a communications plan which outlines how you will communicate quickly and effectively with key stakeholders such as customers, suppliers, shareholders and the media. Make it clear who has specific responsibility for contacting particular individuals, and how other groups will be contacted.
STAY COOL. In practice most crisis-hit executives run round like headless chickens. You need to take a cool strategic overview. Ask yourself if everyone has a common view of the situation. How bad can it get? What message do you need to put out and how?' The first 24 hours are often crucial.
HOW DO OTHERS SEE IT? What counts are other people's perceptions, not your own. To you, it might be a storm in a teacup, but if your customers, investors or other audiences perceive the situation to be damaging, that's what you must address.
GET THE MEDIA ON YOUR SIDE. Hold a press conference or issue a statement, and give journalists maximum access. You need to provide absolute transparency to the media. Demonstrate from the beginning that you'll cooperate with them, and they can be your best allies. But if they believe that you are slow in providing information, they'll lose confidence. Your aim is to become the 'Single Authoritative Source' of information.
BEWARE OF CRISIS CREEP. Sometimes an issue creeps up on you. Issues like BSE or the problem of oilrig disposal were around for years before hitting the headlines. Watch for warning signs. A story that features repeatedly in the trade press will soon be picked up by the national media. An independent investigation may also force an issue to come under the national spotlight.
TELL THE TRUTH. Tell a lie and you die. You may not be able to tell everything you know - for example, if an issue is sub judice, or the stock market needs to be informed - but at least try to explain why you can't tell all.
SAY SORRY. An apology usually helps to diffuse the situation. You may not want to admit liability but express your regret that it occurred and your determination to prevent it happening again.
TAKE PERSONAL CONTROL. Don't try and hide behind spin doctors or consultants. Use them but make sure that you are the spokesperson - after the Kegworth air crash, British Midlands chairman Sir Michael Bishop dropped everything, went straight there, and took personal responsibility. He gained a huge amount of credit for doing so.
BE HUMAN. Crisis management isn't a black art. If you behave as a human being, then you can't go far wrong.
DO SAY: 'We would like to express our deepest sympathies to those who have been affected, and shall leave no stone unturned in our efforts to establish exactly how this happened.'
DON'T SAY: 'Crisis? What crisis? Let's just keep our heads down, chaps, and in a week's time it will have blown over.'


Linda said...

I think these are excellent pointers, especially the tell the truth, say sorry and be human bits! Apologies if I am stating the obvious. What I would say though is that I don't agree you can 'get the media on your side' - yes you can be as transparent and as professional as you can in dealing with journalists but you should never assume they are on anyone's 'side' - especially when something has gone wrong. Don't you agree? I once stood up in front of a room of charity volunteers who were concerned about how journalists behaved and I was attempting to put their minds at rest. "Don't worry, they'll be on your side," I said. Someone put me right. At the time I was frustrated that I wasn't getting my point - that there was nothing to fear from forging contacts wilt journalists - across properly but I have reflected on this a lot and they were right, of course.

Ian G said...

Linda, I think you can get the press on side - and there are two ways of doing so coercion or co-operation. Two examples:

ONE - COERCION: A manufacturer of yoghurt with a great brand, who had a side line in catering packs of butter which were blamed for a Listeria outbreak which caused several deaths.
The butter was mainly used by sandwich shops - the butter was left in the shops all day, nice and warm and a fantastic breading ground for bacteria. At night they went back into the fridge, but the core remained at the optimum temprature for bacteria. This would happen ad infanitum and it was not our client's fault.
The Food Standards Agency got involved and issued a press release naming our client and several newspapers published articles linkg the client to the problem. Disaster? No!
We simply phoned each newspaper and pointed out they were on dodgy ground legally. Journalists hate this. Quite rightly - I've been there myself as a hack and it costs a lot of money in the courts.
Result? Next day they all qualified or retracted their stories. At then end of the day their was no prosecution and the brand's integrity was safe.

TWO - COOPERATION: A school branded with the worst Ofsted report in the UK, yes - another one.
I didn't work on this but my partner Andy Green did. The first thing he told the client was: "You need to put out you're ten point plan for turning the scholl around."
They said: "We don't have a ten point plan." Andy's reply was simple: "You do now!" The next day we acknowledged the preoblems at the school and laid out the ten issues that would be addressed over the next 12 months. The Press understood this and reacted accordingly.
Result? The resulting press coverage focused on the failings of the Government's educational system rather than the school its self.
Hope this helps.