People often think of public relations only in marketing terms. How can we use PR to build our brand? If they don’t see an immediate payoff, they ask why bother? They are missing the link between positive PR and saving the brand during a crisis. Positive PR is like getting a flu shot, it won’t guarantee you don’t get the bad news flu, but it will make the symptoms less severe.
When a crisis hits, the first step reporters take is to type your name and your company’s name into Google. They are looking for a general impression. What another reporter has said about you will be given a great deal of weight. Reporters trust other reporters above all others.
Step two for a reporter is to search your name and the key crisis words like “fire,” “layoffs” or “complaints,” whatever best describes the crisis. They are looking for how you handled previous events and if there are any stories about your preparedness or lack thereof.
They will search all your social media channels, personal and corporate. They will dig hard and they are really good at it.
Within a few minutes they will form a picture of your corporate or personal character and that will frame an approach to the story in the hours, days, or weeks ahead. It is a picture you will find very hard to change during a crisis. For media there is no grey. It’s black and white, you are the good guy or the bad guy, the victim or the perpetrator.
Try it right now. Search your name, your company’s name. Now search again and add in a crisis word or two. See what comes up. That’s what a reporter will know about you today if bad news strikes in the next few minutes. If you have been keeping a low profile, not telling your positive stories, then reporters will find a void. This void will be filled with bad news when disaster strikes. Your bad news flu just became pneumonia. It might be fatal.
The most overlooked component to effective crisis management is building a positive public reputation in advance of any crisis. You can’t control when a crisis will strike but you can control how you build your reputation in advance of the bad news. This reputation will be the foundation you stand on during the crisis. Create a public perception of your company as a positive member of the community. It will help shape how media and the public will view the crisis story and your efforts to deal with it.
There is an old saying in politics, “If you don’t define yourself, your opponents will define you.” Business is no different. If you don’t define yourself now, the media, your critics or the crisis will do it for you.
An organization with a good public reputation will take a hit but will weather the crisis better than one that the public first hears about when a crisis has struck and the blame game is in full swing.
Now is the time to get your bad news flu shot.