Trylon Communications  - Volume I Issue 10
       

Crisis PR: From the Frying Pan Into the Fire

Some people jump out of perfectly good airplanes to get their kicks and some bungee jump from skyscrapers. For a real adrenaline rush, try taking on the media during a feeding frenzy in a corporate crisis.

You can see it in their eyes. The very hint of a corporate scandal has their palms go damp and their nostrils flare. No, we aren't talking about the media - we're talking about the "handlers" - the people who get paid to keep stories out of the paper.

The responsibility of efficiently handling a media crisis can be overwhelming to most executives. One wrong word or even the wrong nuance to the wrong person, and the story can take on a life of its own. An electron microscope has nothing over the media when a story is in the air.

So what does one do to keep the wolves at bay? Before damage control can be undertaken, damage assessment is necessary. Minor incidents often become major stories simply because those charged with answering media questions do a poor job explaining exactly what happened - in many cases because they are not fully briefed to begin with.

Assembling a crisis team and performing immediate triage is crucial. Assign responsibilities to each team member. Perform an internal investigation to uncover as much information as possible - before the press does. Communicate that information across the team and be sure that the senior executives and board members are briefed as soon as possible.

Keep media spokespeople to one or two key individuals - those who can be most trusted to remain circumspect and honest. Candidly admitting to mistakes can take a lot of wind out of a potential scandal's sails. Evasions and euphemisms generally engender more questions and probing.

Be proactive with the media. If you uncover information that will become public knowledge anyway, brief the press. An exclusive interview with a local journalist will win future PR points and provide your company with the opportunity to tell its side of the story.

Preparing a crisis defense is much like smoke jumping into a forest fire. It is frightening and you can't always see the source of the smoke. One must take commands well, clear brush and obstructions to remove fuel sources, find the core of the fire and attack it vigorously. Most people would never want to attempt it, and others only feel alive when they are about to make the jump.