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Five rules when dealing with a communications crisis

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David Oates

Negative press can happen to literally any company. Whether the actions that now draw the ire of the media was intended to cause harm or not, inquiries will occur, and it's never a fun time.

But the mark of a good company isn't necessarily based on if a crisis occurs, but rather what they do about it. The good ones stand up and are willing to be held accountable. The bad ones just want the press to "go away." Here's an important note - if an organization takes the latter approach, it will only get worse.

So I offer the following five tidbits of what to do when a communications crisis occurred. You'll notice the first two have nothing to do with PR.

Determine if the allegations are true. Many times the answer may be yes. This doesn't mean that the company or its execs are inherently bad individuals. It often just means that mistakes were made and need to be fixed.

If bad things did occur, determine how to fix the problem. Doing so does two things. First, it will help make the company a better organization; one that takes care of its customers, employees and stakeholders by being good stewards of their trust and confidence. The second thing is that positive changes will be well received by news outlets and give the company the best change to get at least some slack in any reports that arise from the incident.

Be completely forthright with the media. Don't sugarcoat or shy away from the tough questions. Be candid, forthright and focused on the isues at hand. Highlight the work being done to make any necessary changes in response to the issue. Dodging the questions will actually cause the problem to only stick around and fester.

Prepare well. Go through some dry runs with trained communication professionals that will prepare you for the tough questions that will be asked. Be sure to articulate the key themes of change and improvement that the company will undertake. Practice not getting defensive or deflecting blame. Be sure you come across genuine and sincere.

Understand that the media is not your enemy. While they are certainly not your friend, most journalists don't have a personal axe to grind. Surely there are some exceptions, but for the most part, reporters just want to get the story right and do a good job. Don't treat them like a bad cousin, but instead recognize them as professionals doing a job and treat them accordingly.

Most important, Keep Calm and Carry On!


Oates is the founder and president of Stalwart Communications, San Diego’s only pay-on-performance PR and marketing firm. He can be reached at david@stalwartcom.com.

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