There is the old saying in media: If it bleeds, it becomes the lede.
Media have always highlighted the ugly underbelly of a society. With such brutal competition in that 24/7 space, no one should be shocked that the shocking dominates even more. What might have been a simple embarrassment to an organization several years ago now could be framed as a front-page scandal. So, yes, expect that the media will grab hold and run with when a person in or associated with your organization “gets into trouble.”
That might be a key executive who is arrested for driving with intoxicants. Your celebrity spokesperson is accused of domestic violence. The head of the partnership you put together has been charged with embezzlement. Here are tips from Image Marketing Consultants on how to manage these incidents.
Realize that this happens all the time. Being under the media spotlight has become the “new normal.” Because it happens all the time, you must have a crisis management and communications plan which provides details about what to do and what not to do. This must contain input from legal counsel. America is the land of lawsuits.
Don’t be premature. Before the organization does or says anything the facts must be in and must be double-checked. Was the celebrity spokesperson actually arrested or were the authorities merely called to the house? Once the facts are verified, then you proceed cautiously in developing your position, releasing information, and then providing ongoing updates.
Filter all release of information through one contact. There are many constituencies to provide information to. They range from employees and investors to media and local authorities. Those communications must be approved and released through one central contact. That keeps your response consistent and avoids worsening the situation by rumors. It also protects you legally if there are to be lawsuits. Legal action can keep the alleged incident on the front page for years.
Apologize or provide appropriate verbal gestures. Standard communications procedure is to provide an “I’m sorry” if one is at fault in any way or has created a situation in which there has been a misunderstanding.
However, that is not the only communications ritual that has become part of good public relations. For example, if someone has died and, even though the organization is not liable, offer a sincere expression of sadness. Empathy is mandated. Organizations are supposed to act human. In the court of public opinion, organizations are now “people.”
Get on with business. Scandals are disruptive because they can distract organizations from doing what they should be doing, be that selling pizza or delivering social services. After you take care of what you should be taking care of during this crisis, move the organization back on task. Remember leadership and good management are often noticed during crisis. Although the situation is stressful, how it’s handled can enhance the brand, convert to added revenues and funds raised, and provide boosts to careers.
Kate Sirignano, founder of Image Marketing Consultants, invites you to a complimentary consultation on crisis communications, public relations, marketing, partnerships, special events, and social media email@example.com, 203-404-4868.