What to Say or Do in a PR Nightmare

Do you have a crisis team in place to take care of whatever may come your way? Do you know what you would do if you were being sued over your product and claims of freshness? Or what you would do if you were boycotted and called a bigot for an incident or misunderstanding happening at your bar?


Brabender Cox, who represents General Nutrition Centers, the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Pizza Outlet, which we featured in our Fall 1999 issue, is an integrated marketing communications firm. They have expertise in crisis communications, publicity, public affairs, media relations and cause marketing. Brabender Cox has agreed to help Pizza Marketing Quarterly provide our readers with some useful ways to handle a crisis.

Kelly Denny, Director of Public Relations at Brabender Cox, said no one wants to think about it, but every pizza owner should take the time to anticipate the types of crisis that could occur in this industry.

“Every business, at one time or another, will be on the receiving end of some event that risks your credibility and reputation,” Denny said. “But there are 10 common sense commandments that can save your reputation and your business should a crisis occur. “How would your employees handle a robbery, fire or incident of food poisoning? Would you know what to tell your employees or how to answer the questions that would come from the media?”

Denny said these are lessons to take very seriously.
The 10 Commandments for Crisis Communication

  1. Anticipate and Plan for a Crisis-Take the time before a crisis occurs to anticipate what could go wrong and how you would respond. You can narrow the margin for chaos by outlining a plan that designates key tasks to the appropriate people and taking the time to assure that each player knows his or her role-just in case.
  2. Know your Target Audience-Should a crisis occur, it is important to know who the people are that would care about it. Key audiences could include businesses located near yours, employees and vendors, regulatory agencies and the media.
  3. Gather Information-As the crisis unfolds, gather as much information as possible to answer the essential questions: who, what, when, where, why and how. If appropriate, talk to people who may have witnessed the crisis or know the people involved. Write a brief statement that answers the key questions outlined above along with the steps that will be taken to resolve the crisis, a timeframe for each and a desired outcome.
  4. Be Timely-When dealing with a crisis, it is important to remember to respond quickly and proactively to the media. The media’s interest in the situation is likely to be brief and it is critical that you respond to a story before it appears in print, as you will not get another opportunity to do so.
  5. Never Speculate-When addressing a crisis situation with the media, deal with facts-avoid giving your opinions, responding to hearsay or making judgements.
  6. Never Mislead-While you do not have to reveal information that may be harmful, always tell the truth. If you play it loose and fancy free with the truth, you stand to have your key audience find out you lied and lose all faith in you. If you lose credibility, you have lost the battle no matter what the outcome.
  7. Contradictions Kill-In the heat of a crisis, it is critical to have all communication come from a single, credible spokesperson. If more than one person speaks about the crisis, it leaves room for contradictory stories, which is potentially more disastrous than the crisis at hand. Take the time, in advance, to decide who will be the designated spokesperson.
  8. Seek Counsel-Keep in mind, many crisis situations may require the counsel of a public relations professional and possibly an attorney who can inform you as to liabilities that could prove critical.
  9. Take Responsibility-If your business was responsible for some aspect of a crisis, it is best to take a stand-up approach in accepting responsibility rather than receiving blame from another source. After acceptng responsibility, outline the steps you plan to take to correct the problem, the timeframe for executing those steps and the ultimate goal in addressing the crisis and putting it behind you.
  10. Learn from the Experience-Once the crisis is past, take the time to analyze your response. Did you have one spokesperson who stayed focused on the key messages at hand? Did you reach your target audience in a timely fashion?

While no one wants to face a crisis, having a proactive crisis communications plan in place makes the possibility of an onslaught much easier to handle.


This article has been modified. It appears in its original form on PMQ.com

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