Please don’t waste the lessons from this crisis!

I wrote a white paper not long ago; it was called “8 steps to managing a PR crisis”.

Little did I know.

In the white paper – which you can download at the bottom of this page – I identified some really high-profile cases where PR handling was an unmitigated disaster. I mean when it was an absolutely epic balls-up.

BP, Phillip Green, Ryanair all took a bit of stick in there, and rightly so.

But I also wrote it before the biggest crisis I’ve seen in my lifetime – a coronavirus pandemic that has cost so many people so much already. At the writing of this, it’s cost almost 21,000 lives in the UK and counting…21,000 people, many more families impacted, countless businesses struggling, and so much more.

I wrote it before Donald Trump’s brain fart around drinking disinfectant as a cure for COVID-19.

And I wrote it before so many of the other major PR mishandlings we’ll be using as case studies of ‘epic PR fails’ for years to come, where brands, businesses, government hi-rollers and celebs have – as many have said – simply not ‘read the room’.

I mean even Disney – the self-labelled “Happiest Place on Earth” – got it wrong. Leaving it late to close its doors and its execs hoarding bonuses while furloughing workers were among a raft of criticisms, which included some from Disney heiress, Abigail Disney.

I could write a thesis on the countless list of PR disasters we’ve seen during this crisis, which really has bought out the worst of some organisations.

But it has also bought out the best of so many too.

In the midst of all the carnage of this crisis there’s also been beacons of hope. Individuals like Captain [Sir] Tom Moore raising nearly £30m, and companies like Costa, Morrisons and HomeServe giving free support to our amazing NHS and social care workers, among them.

Steps 1 to 7 in a nutshell….

The reason I’m saying all this right now it because I hope people can start to understand now that EVERY organisation, regardless of its size or industry, has the potential to be impacted by a PR crisis.

It’s not always as big as this one obviously, but crises – big or small – can have significant and lasting impacts on a business. Sometimes they can be terminal.

What worries me is that so many businesses simply don’t prepare at all for it….and, believe me, you can tell the difference in the ones that have from the ones that haven’t.

And if I can see it, as an outsider looking in, then you can be pretty sure their customers can too, and their employees, their partners, their suppliers….everyone.

Have a read of the crisis management handbook if you get five mins. If you don’t, then I’ll explain steps 1-7 in a nutshell.

Step 1: Anticipate

Anticipate the key risks you might face then prioritise them (make sure you add ‘pandemic’ in there now too!).

Step 2: Be ready

Get a crisis response team ready (if and when a crisis ever hits).

Step 3: Monitor and track

Constantly analyse your landscape (media and social) so you can identify potential issues and trends in real-time.

Step 4: Media training

Choose and media train the right spokespeople, so they’re ready when the time comes.

Step 5: Audience mapping

Ensure you identify all your audiences, channels and know who’s accountable for them.

Step 6: Get ahead

When it hits, make sure to get ahead of the story.

And Step 7: Always – be human and be honest

That leaves step 8. The golden step in crisis handling for anyone who’s been there before, worn the T-shirt and got the scars.

Step 8 is “Learn lessons from a crisis….every, single time”. If you do nothing else, do this one!

Vastly over-looked because so many business leaders are too busy patting themselves on the backs after recovering from a crisis….but, without doubt, this is THE most critical step in any crisis.

Learn the lessons, make the changes, be clear about the response plan and who’s accountable. If nothing else, please use it as an opportunity to learn and improve.

The great thing is that lockdown is giving business leaders the time to do this right now, before normality and ‘business as usual’ resumes. If it ever resumes.

Use this thinking time, space and opportunity to get your team together and to prepare for something like this ever happening again.

Do it before you forget all the big or small things that went wrong and what could be fine-tuned, and ensure you have the ‘right people in the right seats’ to respond quickly to another crisis that might hit.

Hopefully we won’t have another crisis of this scale to work through. But, by organising yourself around a crisis management framework and using a few simple steps, you can ensure you’re certainly better prepared if, God forbid, it ever does.

Download “8 steps to managing a PR crisis”

Gary Jenkins

Gary Jenkins

I’ve been a journalist and PR leader, working with high growth start-ups to complex multi-million-pound businesses for more than 20 years. My heart lies in landing brilliant international and national coverage for clients and helping take strategy through to delivery and seeing the results!

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