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Creating a PR crisis


Creating a PR crisis


By Cathy Gray, managing director, Gray Management Group

Crisis management needs to be reinvented. Too often crisis management plans are so stale and out of date that when a real crisis hits, everyone is scrambling like chickens with their heads cut off to make sense of the situation and to manage the brand through the process.

Crises get so much media coverage because they make a good story. News hounds love a good crisis, a good scandal; they sell papers and drive ratings. So what are PRs doing to take advantage of this well-known fact?

For PRs and brands willing, I believe planting a crisis will soon become a common PR tactic. In today’s society, brands and their PRs are applauded for managing a crisis well. In fact, it can positively build the brand, even though it may not have been the original intention. If you knew what quasi-crisis was coming, you could plan to manage it exceptionally, and could come out better off on the other side.

Of course creating a faux-crisis would be against PR ethics and ‘the code’ if you will, but are other industries not doing this already? Creating faux public perceptions or a distraction to what is really happening or the real issue?

I would love to know how many tired crisis plans are sitting in the drawer that do not even mention social media or online. Brands who manage crises in real time, use social media effectively and respond to customer enquiries directly via this medium win back customers’ respect – notable examples include Domino’s Pizza’s management of two staff tampering with food, Virgin Blue flying under the ash cloud and Toyota’s handling of their recent Lexus GX460 recall.

But for those who create a crisis and manage it to a tee, there is a raft of benefits to be gained dependent on the client’s objectives. Brands that have purposefully built a crisis for their own gain have include Oz Harvest/MasterChef’s Matt Moran’s video leak where he blasted production crew for wasting food later to be revealed it was a stunt only after it racked up over 250,000 YouTube views. Another example would be the Kardashians’ recent press release that went out referring to the sister’s as the Kardashian Klan, ‘accidently’ implying similarities between them and the KKK – beneficial only to extend their 15 minutes of fame and draw attention to their fashion label. Finally, and one which we suspect has been manufactured just recently, is the customer service breakdown at GASP fashion stores and the brand’s spokesperson thanking the complaining customer on national television for giving the store all this exposure, albeit some negative.

Whether your crisis is staged or real, there are important things to remember when managing a crisis, with digital diversifying the strategic response:

1. You cannot anticipate every crisis and there is no cookie-cutter crisis response, but plan for what you would expect and then be flexible.

2.    Create your crisis team – the core team should include one key crisis PR manager, one traditional media PR and one social media PR all presenting one key message, working with the CEO, HR and operations staff.

3.    Identify and know your key stakeholders and influencers before you start communicating with every man and their dog – who is important and why? Bloggers may be more important than some mainstream media, depending on the crisis and your objectives.

4.    Nail your statements and responses based on validated information to show people you are transparent.

5.    Stop other communications (including social media updates) and focus on the issue at hand.

6.    Develop a dark site holding page that takes over your URL that only features information relating to the crisis: fact sheets, company information, history, statistics, maps, photos, diagrams, live streamed/downloadable videos from press conferences or media statements.

7.    Measure, evaluate and use the crisis as a learning curve.

8.    Plant a crisis if you are game, but make sure you execute it like any other PR campaign with precision and detailed forward planning.


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