PR Crisis Management
PR crisis management is a specialized area of public relations work in which the professional works to put out image fires and deal with scandals. These professionals are the heavy-hitters of the public relations world, and their jobs are stressful.
A professional can help your business overcome an image crisis, but you need to make sure you are hiring the right PR professional to deal with the problem. Some public relations personnel are more likely to deal well with problems related to legal scandals. These professionals know how to deal with legal media and can create buzz to get public opinion on your side. Others deal more with moral or ethical crises. Politicians and athletes often use this type of crisis management personnel.
Before you hire anyone, ask about his or her record. While some information may be confidential, you can get a gist of the types of cases this person has worked before. Also, you can get a feel for the personality of the professional public relations worker you are hiring. This person will need to present an open, but firm image to people involved in the situation. You want someone who exudes warmth, but gives the solid understanding that her word is the final say.
Hiring a PR crisis management person may be a long-term commitment, in which you will pay a retainer for services whenever needed. This arrangement also could be short term. The setup depends on your needs, but look to find someone whose work arrangements are flexible to help you weather any public relations storms you may face.
Should you find yourself facing a public relations problem without a professional on hand to help you deal with the issue, you will need to learn quickly to catch up and handle the crisis on your own. Crisis management involves two factors. First, you have to decide how much information to give out. In some cases, people opt to give full access, while others hold back and issue terse statements. Looking at your situation, decide which scenario plays out best with the media and your current and future customers. Once you make a decision, stick to it. Let others know you are firm in your resolve.
The second issue is to get through the crisis with people on your side. Crisis management does not mean you are making the problem go away. Rather, it is an indication you are riding out the problem. Your goal is to come out with your reputation intact. Should you face a work crisis, such as tainted goods or poor labor practices, let the public and your employees know quickly what steps you are taking. Watch what public relations professionals say and model that behavior. A public relations campaign is to get people on your side, whether that means believing you are innocent, or believing you are doing everything in your power to fix problems.
PR crisis management teams exist for a few reasons. The first is to help companies deal with rumors. Though rumors may prove to be false in the end, they still affect the perception people have of a company. This problem is especially true in entertainment-type environments. Sports figures find themselves mired in allegations of misconduct, and it follows them whether it is true or not. Similarly, a small restaurant accused of selling alcohol to minors will have a poor image even if those claims prove false. Crisis management is there to handle these issues to keep them from becoming more widespread problems.
PR crisis management teams also work to make sure when there are problems that the client's position is heard. One strategy may be to issue a short statement indicating regret or remorse without giving many details. Still another possibility is to set up interviews with media members who will be sympathetic. The various crisis management strategies available help present a new angle on the current crisis.
Finally, PR crisis management is about doing damage control. Sometimes, a client did do something wrong, and then the job of crisis management is to keep the damage to a minimum by showing that the person has another, better side or use other techniques to move the focus away from the crisis.
If you want to handle PR crisis management on your own, then you should make sure you understand the basic techniques. The first technique is to get your point across without sounding defensive. If you are able to present your case logically, then you may want to do so by speaking to a reporter. Remember that the media's job is to present both sides of an argument, but the reporter's own view of the situation will influence the representation. Seek out someone who has been helpful or seemed sympathetic. Controlling the media representation of your case is a vital PR tool to understand.
The second primary technique you should learn is when to avoid commenting. Though it sounds like a simple concept, many people do not understand when they are better off not saying anything. Another important part of that puzzle, too, is not saying "no comment" when a small comment would be better. Doing so can make you appear more guilty. The purpose of crisis management is not to defend your position, but to make yourself seem likeable and concerned.
PR crisis management requires a good bit of people-reading skills, and you should work on paying careful attention to body language and tone. Being aware of these issues will help you gauge the best reaction in your precarious situation.
Becoming a crisis management professional requires a few talents and learned skills. On the talent side, this type of work requires a certain personality. A bubbly personality is not necessary, but certainly a friendly demeanor is required to perform this work well. In addition, someone who can network and have people remember him fondly will do better as a PR professional.
The skills required to learn are an understanding of how to deal with the media and an ability to get the best possible information from the client. The media works the same in most places, but few people understand how stories are discovered and reported. Classes on public relations should assist with this type of knowledge and will give a good base of information for learning how to make friends and keep enemies away.
The client's honesty is important, but it can cause problems. PR professionals are not protected by confidentiality laws, and you could be required to testify later. Getting the client to be upfront, though, can help create a good strategy. A guilty client promising vindication does not play as well as a client who expresses regret, for example. Reading your clients well and knowing how to approach the crisis is important to doing this job well and giving your client the best.
The first step to becoming a crisis management professional is to get the appropriate education. If you plan to go it alone, you likely can use some volunteer experience to get you started, but working in a firm typically requires a college education. People who are public relations professionals do not necessarily have a degree in public relations. Their degree may be in marketing or finance, or it may even be in English or communications. The key is using one's education to gain the skills to get an entry-level job in public relations.
Crisis management professionals need to be deadline oriented since their timely response to problems is a key to their success. They also need to think well under pressure. Some PR professionals work better in other parts of the industry where they may work to write press releases or secure feature stories on their clients. PR crisis management teams work hard and fast to get interviews and statements quickly.
The best way to prepare to get a job in the PR crisis management field is to make sure you have taken courses to improve your writing and speaking skills, and that you have some experience working with presenting a public image. Good coursework and volunteer experience can put you in the position to get a good entry-level PR job.
Judging your ability to work in PR crisis management requires knowing yourself really well. First, you have to ask yourself whether you have the speaking and writing abilities to work in public relations. Strong communication skills are a must. Determine your strengths by examining the comments others, particularly instructors, have on your ability to speak and write well. If you get excellent grades on speeches and essays, then you may be headed in the right direction. If not, speak to someone about how you can improve.
PR crisis management requires other skills, as well. You need to think clearly in a time of crisis. When everyone is panicking, you need to be able to work through the problems in a rational order and right disasters. An ability to do well in chaos is required for good PR work; being honest with yourself about your crisis management instinct is vital to knowing how you will do in this field.
Working fast also is critical in PR crisis management. Some people want to work on written pieces by examining every word. Others are better at snap decisions. The latter group is the people who do well in crisis management. Often, events are moving quickly with information coming from many sources. Putting all this information together into a coherent strategy is vital.
PR crisis management professionals work in a number of arenas. Some work for private corporations. These people work to present a good public image for the corporation, taking direction from someone in upper management about the best course of action. These professionals need to be willing to defend the corporation employing them above all else. Many large non-profits also hire PR crisis management consultants to work with them in case of problems.
PR crisis management also is a field within many government agencies. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Centers for Disease Control, and many other government groups also hire people to work in public relations and deal with public outcries. The job of these crisis management professionals is to explain to the public about any ongoing problems, and to give them accurate information about what they should do. This kind of work can be stressful and comes in bursts, but the end result of government PR jobs is to make the public feel at ease.
PR professionals also work independently, especially crisis management professionals. People hire these professionals, when needed, to help deal with any major problems they have. Someone arrested for a high-profile crime, a company embroiled in an embezzlement scandal, and a politician fighting off accusations of past behavior all hire crisis management professionals to help.
When deciding whether you should hire a PR crisis management professional or represent yourself publicly, consider a few major issues in your decision. First, you need to judge your emotional stake in this problem. Perhaps, you are dealing with an internal issue with an employee, but it is something you can handle without problem. Then, you may want to do your own public relations work. A scandal threatening to bankrupt your business may be a situation that calls for an objective professional to handle.
Second, ask yourself whether you deal well with people. A certain charming personality is necessary for good public relations work. If you have this personality, then representing yourself can work out, but if you tend to seem abrupt to others, a professional may do a better job.
The third key is whether you have the time and energy to handle the press strategy while dealing with the crisis. In some cases, you may be through the most labor-intensive parts of the problem and have the free time to work on the problem. You may have an assistant who can handle the administrative portion of the job. In the midst of a crisis, though, someone who is paid specifically for his or her knowledge of how to deal with the media can be a huge asset to your company.