From My Reputation, To Yours: Crisis Communication


© Ivan Bliznetsov -
© Ivan Bliznetsov –

It’s been a month heavy with celebrity crises. Aaron Hernandez gets accused of murder, Kim Kardashian and Kanye West get teased for naming their baby North, John Galiano of Dior has another anti-Semitic outburst, and Paula Deen goes from cooking butter-rich food to losing her Food Network partnership and multiple endorsement deals.

Dig Up Dirt, Clean It All Up

A lot of these individuals may have saved their reputation if they had an effective crisis Public Relations (PR) plan in place. The “once a murderer, always a murderer” reputation may be a hard reputation to manage but one bump in the road can be easily smoothed out by managing past mistakes to easily avoid further criticism in the present.

Paula Deen was asked to appear on the Today Show for an interview with Matt Lauer but canceled in the last minute to handle it on her own. Deen released an apologetic video where she was in complete control of her words, most likely crafted by her PR team. She shows up a week later to an annoyed Matt Lauer who blatantly asks, “Are you racist?” “Would you fire you?” and other direct questions. Reporters and journalists can be just as straightforward and quick to call the kettle black.

Stand on Firm Ground

tumblr_inline_mp2cxvNb7i1qz4rgpAlthough Deen’s PR team did react with an apologetic video, one mistake was to avoid talking to the media immediately through journalists like Matt Lauer. Canceling appearances at the last minute will always affect your reputation in a negative manner. With that said, one of the most important factors of managing a crisis is to handle the media head-on. You must be the one to address the concerns without it coming from others.

If there is dirt in a celebrity’s history that may arise or affect their present reputation, it can be beneficial to make it public and announce how the celebrity figure has changed for the better. Always turn bad into good if possible.

An article from the Boston Globe quotes celebrity crisis expert Allan Mayer, “you can’t afford to be asleep at the switch or be slow at reacting. It used to be you could take a little time to gather your thoughts and figure out what you want to do. It’s a luxury none of us have anymore.”

Be Prepared

That rapid transmission of information has forced some media relations teams to prepare for bad news before it happens. Scott A. Sobel, President of Media & Communications Strategies based in Washington, D.C., said his crisis management firm performs “reality audits” and devises responses to hypothetical situations.

With that in mind, always have a crisis communications plan ready. Who do you need to reach out to first to keep from damaging your company or client reputation? What is your crisis support infrastructure—who does what, when?

Have a central spokesperson instead of many to keep a consistent frame of mind and voice. Before speaking, anticipate key questions with your team so you can provide the most politically correct and authentic answer.

Whatever you do, don’t go quiet. Social media helps provide real-time communication channels so take advantage of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other platforms to keep people informed.

Lastly, analyze your response. What did your team do well, and what could you have done better. Keep these key points top of mind for your next PR crisis communications plan.

Equipped with an actionable plan, be prepared to handle any PR crisis. Instead of delaying or running from the situation, own up to your mistake and handle the crisis the way you had planned.

What are your suggestions for handling a PR crisis?

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