When Bad Press Happens to Good People
The world is abuzz with news of the phone hacking scandal that is rocking the UK. The ongoing controversy involves the News of The World, a popular and now-defunct British tabloid newspaper published by News International and allegations that individuals working for the paper had engaged in professional misconduct, namely phone hacking.
While the affair originally appeared to be limited to the phone hacking of celebrities, politicians and members of the British Royal Family, it’s now been reported that the hacking also included that of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, relatives of deceased British soldiers, and victims of the London bombings. This has generated widespread public outrage in the United Kingdom.
Advertisers started to pull out and this led to the closure of the News of the World after a record 168 years in print.
The phone hacking scandal is one of many scandals that has hit companies. We all want to believe that what happened to Toyota or News International would never happen to your company but in the real world, nothing goes the way you want it.
So here comes the age old question, “Is any press good press?”
Judging from the unexpected uproar that currently surrounds Rupert Murdoch and his team, this is clearly not the case. There is however a silver lining to be picked upon from this meltdown – the need for a sound crisis management strategy to salvage a company’s brand/image.
During a crisis, the attention given by the media and the public is nothing short of intense. Public outrage can be the Achilles heel that can ultimately bring down a company – no matter how formidable. The implications for every step taken and action undertaken will no doubt be scrutinised.
Crisis management is an essential component of public relations. Crisis management can “turn around” a major event that “threatens to harm the organisation, its stakeholders, or the general public.
The DOs and DON’Ts of Crisis Management
So what is the best way to handle a crisis? The following tips may be helpful.
Always prepare for the worst. “Make it a regular part of your staff meetings to figure out what could go wrong,” says crisis expert Jonathan Bernstein. It is vital that you develop a contingency communication strategy before the need for one. This preparation will come in handy when a crisis befalls on you.
Develop messages that answer anticipated questions. “To be confident and gain credibility, answer questions with a straightforward “yes,” “no,” or “maybe,” followed immediately with “and here is why,” says PR consultant David Sheon. State your message and reiterate it clearly.
Avoid phrases such as “No comment” or “Our attorneys have advised us.” This gives the impression that you’re hiding something from the press and public. Instead, try something along the lines of, “It is too soon in our investigation to give you a thorough answer.” Or, “We are consulting with top experts in the field on that very issue and expect to have a well-researched response soon.”
Be sincere. Don’t just say, “I’m sorry,” apologise. If you are in the wrong, communications strategist Jason Mudd of AXIA suggests using this Apology Model he crafted for his clients.
- Confess. State what you did. Own up to it. Be clear, candid and concise.
- Apologise. Say, “I apologise” — not just I’m sorry — for whatever it is you did.
- Rectify. How will you make the current situation better? What are the short-term/reactive measures?
- Prevention and Reformation. What are the long-term and/or preemptive steps that will assure this doesn’t happen again — ever?
- Seek forgiveness. This is important. Don’t forget to ask for forgiveness from your employees, shareholders, customers, community and other stakeholders and those impacted.
Lastly, a golden rule in crisis management is to NEVER LIE. Lies will always find a way to creep back into your life and come back to haunt you. A company’s reputation can be built over time but your dishonesty will always be remembered even long after the crisis has passed. The best thing you can do is face up to your mistakes, stand up and take the heat.
The key takeaway from all this should be that to simply say something that seems sufficient to you, but does not address the concerns of the public or your client, is not a productive way to handle a crisis. Certain statements must be made and actions taken to show those watching that you take the situation seriously.