Posts Tagged 'crisis communication'

Changing the Narrative–How to Combat Fake News

At any point, an organization can find itself in the crosshairs of rumor, falsehoods, speculation and innuendo. The business mag Fast Company and others have identified combating intentional misinformation and “fake news” as a growing concern for companies and individuals. Jeff Bezos, Joel Osteen and even trusted and popular former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama have had to combat one or a combination of all the above. While these situations usually fall short of a crisis, if left to fester, any one could grow into a full-fledged crisis. It’s often the PR pro’s job–albeit rarely acting alone–to mitigate the situation and change the narrative. So what to do? Here’s some points we’ve learned to follow:

Review the facts. By this time, any number of people have likely weighed in with an opinion on the assumptions, presumptions and possibly ill intents that have taken ahold. Don’t be afraid to counter these with facts.

Stay on the offensive. Don’t let someone else’s alternative facts become your message points or organizational narrative. Organizations needn’t feel responsibility to address widespread speculation, but they should step forward to take control of the narrative with their own clear message and perspective related to the topic.

Avoid the defensive. Your job is not to draw more attention to falsehoods, misinformation, misconceptions, or intentional disinformation. Don’t let yourself or your story be usurped into someone else’s agenda. Stay affirmative.

Truth is your best defense. Organizations can combat rumors and falsehoods with the truth. That being understood, a credible and effective response incorporates facts, insight and perspectives that may not be widely known. An appropriate response doesn’t mean mindlessly attempting to address every speculation that comes up. Your audience expects (and deserves) a structured, coherent message based on relevant facts. Don’t disappoint.

The medium is part of the message. So now that you’re ready, don’t forget delivery is at least half as important as the message. Spokesperson, best method/platform for response, are all questions to be answered. Pick your time and your best audience, but don’t wait forever. We usually recommend a tandem method–in person, with your best spokesperson on the subject–and with immediate follow up on social media. Keep in mind, the goal is to never need to address this situation again.

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Watchwords for PR: Be Brave

Courage-CS-Lewis
Over the course of a PR career, you’ll have many opportunities to stand up–or stand down, as it were–as a professional. The choices you make will define your life and your career. Looking back, our enduring words of advice for PR folk is “Be brave.”

We sat down to reflect on different experiences we’ve had along our public relations paths that may be fairly comparable to what any pro may face over the course of a lengthy career. We share a few of them here, not specifically as a how-to guide, but with the hope you’ll view them as “opportunities” to learn to be brave and handle some adversities you may encounter as a PR pro. Ultimately, isn’t this is our raison d’etre within an organization?

Internal Conflict/Office Politics

This simple adversity, may be one of the hardest. Why? Because, at worst, it can be toxic and demoralizing to a vibrant and productive organizational culture. One of our colleagues here once worked in a supervisory position where one of her reports had set her sights on our colleague’s position as a supervisor. It was a messy situation, characterized by dishonesty, subversion of work and intentions, and lack of accountability on the part of the report. How to deal with it? Protect your flank: 1) document instructions, expectations, and policy/processes; 2) challenge threats, attacks and subversions directly, using accumulated documentation. Don’t be afraid to have difficult conversations. Be prudent, be thoughtful, never speak in anger. Take a walk, if needed, before or after hard conversations. But don’t hesitate to cast down negative aspersions. Also, if you have the authority, don’t be afraid to realign responsibilities to ensure more accountability. If you don’t have the authority, make sure you create an open line of communication with someone who does.

External Disinformation Campaigns

As PR people, we’re always looking to build greater awareness of and loyalty to our product, service, cause or organization. Occasionally in a career, you may run across an intentional effort by others outside your organization to damage your brand, reputation or cause. You’d be wise not to ignore it, but be prudent in your response. Don’t overreact: match the resources expended to the degree of threat. On a few occasions while doing grassroots coalition building and field work for public policy or civic causes, a couple of us have encountered these intentional efforts to mislead. Frequently, these astroturfing efforts–as they are known–are disguised as another grassroots effort, but most often they’re backed by special interests with a particular business stake in a public policy issue. It’s during these occasions that we’ve found your networks, partnerships and collaborations to be invaluable. Creating feedback loops among these partners can be an effective early warning system to dangers in the environment; moreover, their ability to quickly reach their respective constituencies via owned, social or other media can be crucial.

A Life-Threatening Situation or Life-and-Death Crisis

This involves situations, although not on a mass scale, where people have been (or can be) hurt or injured, sometimes fatally. While we hope no one has to deal with this kind of crisis, given the times we live in, the possibility always exists. With that in mind, here are some of the situations we’ve experienced and what we’ve learned.

Tragically, on more than once occasion, a couple of us have been involved in communications related to loss of life. The circumstances vary quite a bit. In one situation, an employee was found dead (presumably killed) while performing his job responsibilities. We know of another where a client was accidentally drowned while swimming in a pool. In yet another, a client was hurt in an attack by another on-site visitor. In situations such as this, what you can say will be limited, initially, due to unfolding circumstances, police or other law enforcement investigations, and sensibilities to family, friends, fellow employees, even legal considerations. Recognize that at some point—preferably sooner rather than later—you’ll have to say something. You’ll have to explain, give account, reassure. You’ll need to balance fact, with empathy, compassion, and noting appropriate safeguards. Choose words carefully, demeanor cautiously, and perhaps most importantly, the company should speak with a human voice.

Again, our purpose isn’t to claim expertise in dealing with crises; PR crises are all different, but we have been through a few. We also aren’t looking to provide a how-to guide for coping with or managing a crisis. That’s well beyond the scope of what we’d do in this post. Yet, one continuity running through all of these situations is the requirement to be brave. That, in turn, means being level-headed, informed and in control of emotions, which will help in taking control of events. Our mission here has been to describe a few of the most difficult PR situations you might encounter, which demand knowledge, grace and empathy. Most of all, they require the PR professional to summon up the courage to respond insightfully in these situations.

Be sure to let us know below what you think, and difficult PR experiences you’re aware of.


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