It’s damage control time. You own a chain of restaurants where there’s an E. coli outbreak. One of the cops in your shop is busted for child pornography. You’ve had a security breach that puts your customers’ personal information in the hands of hackers. No business or group is immune to such a public relations nightmare. And you can bet that when the media gets wind of the situation, they’ll be — sometimes literally — beating down your door for a comment.
Damage control time!
With your organization’s hard-earned reputation on the line, you must act quickly to take control of the situation and turn it around. Entire books have been written on the subject of damage control. This blog is just a quick overview of some of the most important points.
Plan for the Worst
The time to decide how to deal with a crisis is before one ever hits. Who should be called? Who speaks for the company? These are the types of questions that should be addressed in a crisis management plan. (Here’s a guide to creating a crisis management plan http://www.ntaonline.com/includes/media/docs/crisis-mgm-plan-020703.pdf)
Even if you already employ a PR firm or have an in-house PR department, you need a plan in place so everyone is clear about their roles and responsibilities in a crisis.
Deal With the Situation
When disaster hits your organization, you must act quickly and decisively to rectify the situation. It will be a lot easier to face reporters and answer their questions honestly if you can tell them the concrete steps that are being taken to make things right.
Communicate Your Message
This is a good time to take a deep breath and clear your head. Before you make any statement or answer a single question from a reporter, you need to get a firm grip on the message you want to convey, then get out there and convey it using the following tips.
- Full Disclosure. As they say, the only thing worse than the crime is the cover-up. You are far better off to be up-front about everything you know from the start than to have the ugly details come out later and be accused of trying to sweep something under the rug. In fact, in many cases, you are better off to call a news conference and announce the crisis, than wait for word to get out and have to respond to it.
- Stay on Point. Know your core message, and repeat it as often as possible. However, you may want to come up with several ways to phrase that core message so it doesn’t sound like you’re giving a canned response to every question you’re asked.
- Be Honest. Yes, you are trying to put the best possible “spin” on the situation. But this is no time to play loose with the facts. Your credibility is on the line. Tell them what you know, and what you’re doing to fix the problem. And be straightforward about what you don’t know (then go back and get answers!).
- Maintain Your Dignity and Humility. It may sound contradictory, but just as important as the words you speak, is the tone of those words. You want to come across as dignified, yet humble. You regret the unfortunate situation, you take full responsibility, but you will not grovel or pander.
- Monitor Social Media 24-7. Social media has changed the game of damage control significantly. If you’re not on top of it, countering negative messages about your organization with your own message, it could quickly spin out of control.
A recent example of damage control for in the national media is the series of illness outbreaks linked to the fast food chain Chipotle. It started with a multi-state outbreak of E. coli in October of 2015, followed by an outbreak of Norovirus in Boston just two months later. Using the criteria above as a guideline, check out this interview with Chipotle founder Steve Ells on December 10th.
How do you think he did? Did he appear to be forthcoming with all he knew? Did he stay on point? Strike the right tone?
We here at Grab Me Media give him a B+. On the positive side: He stayed on point, seemed to show genuine concern for customers, and seem generally forthcoming with details. Where he could improve: He seemed a tad “rehearsed”. At times, he appeared to be giving a prepared statement rather than directly answering the questions asked. As a result, toward the end, he repeated himself, talking about industry standards and using the exact phrase “the safest place to eat” three or four times. Such repetition can undermine your perceived sincerity.