Back to the Basics, storytelling, Strategy & Tactics

Every Company Needs a TRUTH Management Plan

As a PR pro, one of the most frequently asked questions you’ll get asked from a client is “What’s our crisis plan?” Every company dreads a crisis. They are bad for business. I firmly believe that most companies are absolutely concerned about the safety or well being of their employees and customers, but make no mistake; the bottom line is always top-of-mind for a client when they inquire about The Crisis Plan.

Handling a Crisis is really where the pros separate themselves from the amateurs. Everybody knows the basic steps, and it’s OK to have your own slight variation/cadence, as long as they are built around the core principles. For the sake of this post, I’ve bundled the main pillars of handling a crisis below.

  1. Plan for the worst

It’s important to prepare for any number of possible scenarios so that when the real world situation occurs, you can be as ready as possible. Nothing can truly prepare you for the real thing but as the saying goes, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Developing a plan upon the emergence of the crisis is almost certain death. Know the issues, the players, the communications methods and the best ways to use them.

  1. Listen and gather

The last thing you want to do is turn something into a crisis when it’s merely an issue. There is a stark difference between the two. What may seem like a big deal when you receive a salvo of customer complaints on social media may turn out to be a minor issue that can be dealt with without blowing it out of proportion unnecessarily.

Whether you’re dealing with a fleeting issue or a full blown crisis, as soon as you are alerted, you should begin gathering g all of the facts. Reach out to trust worthy people who are closest to the situation and demand the unfiltered truth. This process should continue all the way until the fecal matter has stopped falling from the fan.

  1. Isolate and form

When a crisis occurs the last thing you want is misinformation leaving the building. At the earliest possible point, alert all customer facing employees of the situation and make them aware of the situation, if they aren’t already. Tell them that you have engaged your crisis response team. Reiterate the importance of the right information getting to the public and ask that they let the experts communicate that information appropriately. Every employee is a potential PR representative in the time of a crisis, whether you like it or not. Treat them as such.

While this is happening you should be gathering your crisis communications team. You’ll be training your spokesperson, which depending on the severity of the crisis should be as close to the top of the house as possible, and doing all you can to make sure that there is one consistent voice speaking publicly about the situation.

  1. Emerge from behind the curtain

While full message development necessitates gathering ALL of the facts, which can take time, a holding statement shows stakeholders (press, employees, public, and customers) that you are aware of the situation, that you are concerned, and that you are taking action. Basically, it shows that you are human, which goes a long way during trying times. A good holding statement will buy you precious time to gather all the necessary facts and may keep the media at bay while you do so.

  1. Communicate… like, really communicate

This is where the purpose of this post emerges. As PR pros we can spin any number of explanations about what it is we do for a living: We build and manage reputations. We shape images and public opinion. We influence influencers and mold public opinion… blah, blah, blah. As PR pros are role is simple: we get information from point A to point B. We are experts, who earn our living by having the expertise to know how to get the right information to the right audience in a meaningful, impactful way. But at the end of the day that’s it. Point A to point B.

That’s the goal of your Crisis Plan. After you’ve planned, formed your teams, trained your spokespeople and gathered all the facts, you communicate the information to the stakeholders involved.

In Jason Vines book, What Did Jesus Drive: Crisis PR in Cars, Computers and Christianity, the PR guy behind some of the most volatile automotive industry crises, he sums it all up in one brilliant sentence:

“Speculating is a hand grenade and, of course, lying is suicide,” as he succinctly puts it.

What are your thoughts on a crisis plan? What are some of the most important components?


“Did I Do That?” Social Media Awards #5 – Tesco’s “Hit the hay” Tweet

So, you’re Britain’s biggest food supplier and you’ve just been outed for selling beef burgers that contain horse meat – lots of them. This is where the millions of dollars you spend a year on communications pays off, right? This is when your seasoned PR team swarms into action – pagers buzz (yes some people still use them), phones wake weary senior flak in the middle of the night and the crisis strategy you’ve painstakingly planned  throughout the years kicks in. Unfortunately for Tesco, their crisis plan barely got out of the gate before tripping over itself.

When the SHTF and an issue threatens to hurt a person or company’s reputation, one of the first things you do is notify those who need to know. CEO – obviously. Legal Counsel – definitely. Communications team, who if they were good, may have identified the crisis first – of course! How about those who tweet to the world on behalf of your company – DUH! Well something seems to have been lost in translation, because days – yes – DAYS after the crisis broke, the Tesco Twitter team issued the following mind boggling Tweet:tesco1

Shortly after issuing the foot-in-mouth post, hundreds of angry followers and customers responded – blasting and mocking the brand – further exacerbating the already damaging crisis. Tesco replied with an apology and said that the Tweet had been planned before they learned they were slinging horse patties. Poor excuse rife with flaws in itself. But let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and blame it, not on a pitiful display of professional communications, rather, a lack of  a grasp on idioms and their meanings. A little bit more excusable, maybe … but, yeah, a grasp of the English language is also a good skill to seek out when appointing someone to Tweet to the world on behalf of your multi-billion dollar organization.

Congrats, Tesco, you are the 5th runner up for this year’s “Did I Do That?” Social Media Awards!