Never let a communications crisis go to waste
Handling a communications crisis is always something you hope won’t happen, but it can be more valuable in the learnings it brings than any text book.
I now specialise in legal and litigation PR, but in a different life I had a very wide-ranging career in PR and corporate communications both in agency and in-house, working in a government department, a charitable foundation and a university.
I am not sure whether you could call me unlucky or I’ve just been in the wrong place at the wrong time, but I have worked through plenty of crises during my career, ranging from small-scale and local to large and global.
As a litigation and legal PR specialist, I am well used to having to support clients through a high-profile court case or inquest, but in many ways, they are far easier to deal with as they have a clear start, middle and end. It’s the things you don’t see coming that are the hardest to deal with.
Of course, the text books will tell you that if you are routinely boundary spanning your environment then there shouldn’t be any surprises. To a degree that’s true, but sometimes a crisis can literally come like a bolt out of the blue. Organisations have to accept that they can’t plan for every scenario.
The worst kind of crisis is the one that you don’t see coming, where you are either alerted by a journalist call or something actually appearing in the media. You’re immediately put on the back foot.
I recently wrote about my experiences of managing a crisis in a new guide from Signal Ai: Lessons from a crisis. Click on the link to download a copy.
Reflecting on what I had learnt from handling crisis communication, my key takeaways were: firstly, you can’t prepare for every eventuality, but your life will be made much easier if there is a crisis communications plan which has senior sponsors. Secondly, you can’t expect someone to take your word for it, even when you have been incorrectly accused of something, there is often a lingering bad smell – I have heard ‘no smoke without fire’ used on far too many occasions after coming out of a crisis. You have to work doubly hard to win back respect. Unfair? Yes. Necessary? 100%.
Finally, never ever let a crisis go to waste. Critique your response and always use it as an opportunity to ask: Can we do better? And most of the time, you’ll find the answer is yes.