In last month’s post, I reviewed some of the ways editors can prepare for natural (or national) disasters. This month, let’s take a look at disasters of a very different kind.
Public relations disasters
Public relations disasters are, of course, on a far smaller scale than acts of war or mother nature. PR disasters don’t cause loss of life, but they do cause loss of business, reputation, and possibly revenue. A PR disaster might be a precipitous drop in your company’s stock price, the resignation of a CEO, or a scathing customer review that goes viral. Here are some ways you can prepare ahead of time so when disaster strikes, you’ll be able to react quickly:
- Think through scenarios. List some scenarios that are likely to happen to your company. Some examples might be: Your company stock sinks; your CEO, owner, or president resigns; stockholders complain about a company policy; a customer’s complaint goes viral on social media; one of your products is recalled; trolls hijack one of your social media campaigns and bombard the Internet with negative messages about you, etc. There will likely be some scenarios that are very specific to your company’s line of work that you will want to consider as well. What would you need to know in each scenario? How would you want or need to change your communication processes?
- Identify legal and compliance approvers. Communications in response to PR disasters usually require additional approvals beyond that of your regular communications. Who needs to approve stock- or executive team-related special messages, for example? You might need special compliance approval for any stock-related statements, or you might need sign-off from members of your company’s board of directors if you are dealing with a CEO resignation or other high-profile change in management. Know who the approvers are before you need them to approve anything.
- Meet with your PR and legal colleagues now. Talk about the approaches to communication they would take in situations such as a steep drop in your stock price or an irate customer whose complaints have been picked up by the media. Ask them what you cannot say in these situations and what types of language you must avoid. Ask them what you can do (if anything) to try to help assuage the situation.
- Determine the lines of communication. If a negative review comes through your social media accounts, who is responsible for sounding the alarm, and who needs to be informed? If the board is about to fire the president or hire a new one, who will give your team a heads up so you can update communications as necessary? Make sure you have established relationships with the people who need to keep you informed and vice versa.
- Start drafting communications in advance. If you take the initiative to draft some templated language now, you’ll have more luck influencing the messaging than you would during a crisis when everyone goes into paranoid mode. Offer to create drafts that could be tweaked to accommodate different events or situations. The drafts should have some of the basic elements you recommend, such as brevity, calls to action, links to more information, and limited legalese.
- Keep an up-to-date content audit file. Every web team should perform a content audit on a regular basis. This audit should result in the creation of a master file that lists all of your content (websites, social media profiles, etc.). The file should include page URLs, titles, keywords, publication dates and author names, and any other data your team needs. If your content audit file is current, you can quickly figure out what needs to be updated following an emergency. For example, if your CEO resigns, you should be able to open your audit document and search on keywords like CEO. You will quickly see pages and sites (executive team bios, quarterly messages, CEO social media accounts, etc.) that mention your CEO’s name so you’ll immediately know how much content needs to be updated.
- Figure out how you will leverage social media. If your company is on social media, how will you address a customer complaint or negative company publicity? Sometimes taking too long to respond to a situation via social media can make things worse for your company, so make sure your social media team has clear guidelines on when to engage or not engage with an angry customer or customer reactions to negative company news.
- Document the plan and train your team. Once you have put together some basic guidelines with your legal and PR colleagues, include this information in your new hire training, content manuals, style guides, etc. — wherever you have documented processes for your communications.
Go through your PR disaster plan a couple of times a year with your team so everyone will have a refresher and know what their responsibilities are if something happens. Hopefully you’ll never need to implement your plan, but you’ll be glad to have it ready if disaster strikes.