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How To Get Away With (PR) Scandal

"It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to lose it.” Even if there's no cure-all method to remedy company crises, there are lessons to be learned. Here are a few general (one should always care about the context) steps that organizations can take to get away with scandal and successfully emerge from one.

#1. Be prepared.

Crisis begins before there is an issue. Be prepared to manage a crisis so that when it emerges there is a wellbalanced game plan and a solid execution strategy. Being prepared include for you to daily: know who you are and acknowledge your (and your industry's) strength & weaknesses, maintain good internal communication – your first target audience might be your collaborator -, have a plan of attack, monitor the trends and identify clearly who is responsible for the listening.

Bonus : when a crisis hits, you’d better have the right reputation and crisis team by your side. It sounds obvious, but let’s say it anyway, all message development should involve both Legal and PR as one team rather than two separate entities.


#2. Empower your employees and advocates.

« Employees are for a business what a 1st degree relatives (parents, daughters/sons, siblings) are for a family » well said Ella Minty. So, in times of crisis, organizations should consider « employees firsts » moto.

Bonus: preparing your employees well in advance can help you avoid rogue responses during crisis.

#3. Genuinely choose the spokeperson.

It means: don’t always put the CEO/Chairman out there. Depending of the crisis that could directly involve the CEO/Chairman. More often it depends. Figure out if the crisis even large enough for the CEO to be the spokesperson, or if you have another person better suited, well media-trained and closer to the situation. Bonus: Never say “no comment.” By saying nothing, you’re saying something. You have to own the narrative. Always.

#4. Own up to it with compassion and take responsibility for it.

In today’s era, you can no longer not take responsibility for something. If you or your company face a crisis, you have no other choice than own up to your issues and face the reality of your situation. As Veronique Reille Soult says, “it is important to acknowledge the situation and accept full responsability for the mistake first”, then act decisively to begin to remedy the situation, and have in place a strategy to rehabilitate the brand. Bonus : Be honest and transparent.

#5. Give the explanation.

An old maxim states that “when you’re explaining, you’re losing.” Nothing is more wrong than this statement when something has gone wrong in your organization. The explanation is an essential step to re-establish credibility. All your stakeholder, from your collaborators to costumers, along with partners and investors need explanation. Bonus: It’s your responsibility to conduct an independent investigation to answer the questions that arises.

#6. Take action.

Apologies are not valuable unless they are backed up by action. Bonus : Just do it, take action !

#7. Do not forget the reminder.

After a crisis scenario, if well managed, it might be appropriate to (only if it is the case): 1/ give a subtle reminder that for more than once the organization got it right, and 2/ remind your stakeholders that though your organization has come through a difficult time, it is still worthy of trust.

Bonus : Invest consistently and regularly in your relationships with all your stakeholders.

#8. Show respect to reporters' jobs.

The job of journalists is to collect, check, select, synthesize and comment on facts to independently inform the public through a specific media. « When reporters call about a story they’re working on, it is very likely that (…) the story is already set up when you get that phone call. The longer it takes you to put some type of response together, that just gives the reporter more time to get a whole lot of other information that fits into the narrative that they’ve sold [to their editor] » perfectly resume Judy Smith. So, while it could be challenging to deal simultaneously with various stakeholders demands, medias request and approval levels at the same time, it’s important that you meet reporters deadlines as best as you can. Bonus : respect reporters' jobs and do yours : “tell your story first, tell it as fast as requested and tell it all.”

#9. Do not forget social media to assess the crisis.

The virality brought by social networks is a major challenge for new crisis management methods. Today, as noticed by Thierry Libaert, « with social media, what is said about the crisis becomes more important than the crisis itself and crisis management seems to be reduced today according to some, to the management of social media ». But, when you play it right, social media can be « friendly ». So, figure out the messages. Pick the best medium to deliver those messages. Remember that you can't seriously handle crisis by sending 10-15 tweets. Bonus: Stay focus. Bad buzz should not distract you from the bigger picture.

10. The Follow-Up.

In the aftermath of a crisis, track results, establish takeaways, adjust your protocols and measurements for the future. Remember, communicating lessons learned from mistakes is necessary. The excellent campaign of Samsung after the recall of Galaxy Note 7 is a good example.

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