Frankie Flack: Beaten by the drum beat
During the last couple of weeks the number of headlines using the words crisis, scandal and shocker have increased tenfold. Political editors have had to dive deeply into their thesaurus’ to keep the text of one scandal story after another fresh for readers.
While I am no expert on governmental affairs or political public relations, the constant drumbeat of news has reminded me of times when a client finds itself in the media crosshairs.
These type of things can develop in all sorts of ways. The dreaded phone call from “60 Minutes,” a regulatory filing, a lawsuit, cops on the front door or even a facilities accident. What I want to emphasize here though, is that the type of crisis situation here has to do with something company did to itself. Company’s find themselves in crisis situations all the time for things that aren’t necessarily their fault. Handled well, these tend to fade fast. At the end of the day, the bottom line is that your client is thrust in the national spotlight and how you as the PR adviser help handle the next moves.
There are a number of different ways to approach a company’s communications approach in the midst of what I will call a “self-inflicted” crisis. The trick is that whatever prompted the initial news, the company recognizes that there is more to the story that has yet to come out. Most communications advisers would say that it’s best to just peal the band-aid off all at once and get all the news out so that the company can go back to operating the business. This is good advice, but it presupposes that corporate managers can know all that is lurking out there.
In many cases, the company may have a sense that more is going to come out, but simply can’t know what that information will be exactly. This is where the communications adviser needs to work closely with legal counsel to consider the next steps. The last thing any company wants is for news to drip out over time. A steady drumbeat of news can cripple a company as employees lose focus, outsiders ask more questions, regulators pay more attention and operating the business becomes harder and harder.
Therefore the focus needs to be to try and craft a credible communications approach that allows the company to put out as much information regarding the problem as possible, while also closing the door on the issue for some determined amount of time. This is typically done by launching an internal investigation (as likely should be in for good business practice) and telling reporters the company will not have a comment until that investigation is done.
Engaging with reporters from that point on should be focused on background conversations to update them as appropriate on news events, but also to use that outlet as an important way to gather information. As I mentioned above, company’s may not know all the dirt that is about to spill out and an important way to get ahead of this can be to work productively with the media.
At the end of the day, there is little a company can do in these situations to have a significant impact on the media attention brought on by “self-inflicted” wounds. The goal is to manage the situation so that the problem can be solved and the business can continue to operate.