For Starters, Don’t Make the Crisis Worse
By Andrew Blum
When a PR crisis hits in today’s social media age it can hurt you, your firm and brand, and your clients. How you prepare for a potential crisis and how you react to it are key in the first minutes of a crisis.
Think of some recent legal PR crises: the collapse and bankruptcy of Dewey & LeBoeuf – and then the recent criminal trial of several ex-employees in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan. On the plaintiffs’ side of the aisle, you may recall the trial of New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and the asbestos plaintiffs’ firm he worked for and the trial fallout on the firm – Weitz & Luxenberg. Both of these were bad, Dewey much more so.
There have also been examples of firm clients in crisis. One of the most recent was drug company CEO Martin Shkreli who jacked up prices and then was indicted on securities fraud charges. His lawyer told him to keep quiet but he kept on talking, tweeting, etc. Along the way, he also changed lawyers.
Each of these crises was different but Donald Trump’s new PR rules notwithstanding, the same rules apply for all crises. The main thing is work on your crisis plan and skills before a crisis hits. You can’t wing it in a crisis when it hits. That’s too late and a sure fire way to be overtaken by a crisis.
Top 10 Tips for Dealing with a PR Crisis
- Keep the message simple; change it as needed to keep up with developments.
- Use the web and all social media channels wisely.
- Have one designated spokesperson with one consistent message. Do NOT have more than one spokesperson.
- Hire a crisis PR agency. They do this for a living.
- Keep up with the client’s use of email and social media. Keep them on the reservation.
- If your client is flogged in the press daily, pick a select few outlets to give access to or hold some on or off the record briefings.
- If you promise the press something, deliver or the press will never forget. They’re like elephants that way.
- The local media takes big stories personally so don’t forget them even as a crisis goes national. Think of UNC-Chapel Hill and its academic scandal and the Raleigh News & Observer. (Now they are in the NCAA Final Four and it’s still being written about.)
- Try to avoid no comment. Yes, sometimes you have to do it but it looks bad. Think of a way to comment without commenting.
- If you have a gripe with a reporter’s story, talk to the reporter first directly. Don’t go over his or her head and don’t bash them on the Internet or social media channels.
Andrew Blum is a PR consultant and media trainer and principal of AJB Communications. He has directed PR for professional services and financial services firms, NGOs, agencies and other clients. As a PR executive, and formerly as a journalist, he has been involved on both sides of the media aisle in some of the most media intensive crises of the past 25 years. Contact him at ablum@ajbcomms or follow him on Twitter: