Lately I’m noticing a variety of PR consultants and agency owners positioning themselves as experts in handling a crisis. I have one question. Why? That's not special.
For example, a PR agency owner in Beverly Hills labeled his company as a crisis PR firm. It’s the top message on the home page of his website. It was also interesting that he positioned one example of what they are good at handling is an actor coming out as gay. According to The New York Times, Colton Underwood from The Bachelor just came out as gay. This is what brought the topic to mind.
To me this particular situation is an opportunity not a problem. Yes, I realize it could mess up a straight romantic role in a current film, but there is some good that can come out of it.
Now is the time to promote diversity and inclusion messages. Also, it's also better for your image to be authentic. Maybe being an LGBTQ means more invitations to host awards shows. Or the network can start a series called, “Gay Bachelor.” An LGBTQ might be more eligible to garner industry achievement awards. One reason is because there are more categories that they can enter.
Another example of a crisis is when Facebook had to answer to data privacy issues related to Cambridge Analytica. It was a big deal because it probably impacted the 2016 U.S. Presidential election.
COVID is the ultimate crisis. Sadly, 300,000+ restaurants across the US closed as a result of COVID. What about hotels and travel, and theater?
Three crisis’s that occurred during my corporate tech career were a manufacturing plant chemical spill, a plane crash that killed two people at my San Jose work site, and layoffs.
If you haven’t experienced how to respond to press inquiries on these topics, you probably haven’t been working very long.
Did you know major technology companies all experience many lawsuits? I stopped being surprised at any lawsuit a long time ago. Another lawsuit? Yawn.
By the way, the local chemical spill problem I was helping management with from a communications aspect, ended up being just rubbing alcohol. The site attorney and I figured that out and after 17 hours of war room-type meetings.
But I was impressed how management including my department and legal came together fast to figure out internal and external relations tactics. I did comment to the general manager, “This ended up not being a crisis. However, we are more ready for next time.”
Handling communications for the plane crash actually set off my pregnancy labor early and I ended up in the hospital the next day. (By the way, my son Scott, now 20, is doing well at UC Berkeley.) That morning after the plane crash occurred, every local major TV network camera crew was lined up at the plant site asking for interviews. I handled the San Francisco Chronicle and The Mercury News and assigned a coworker who was newer to the team all broadcast.
For those newer to the PR industry, here are three tips on handling crisis’s:
First, don’t panic. The PR professional often is the calmest in the room.
Second, create a communications plan before the next crisis hits. Include hour by hour tactics.
Third, include tailored Qs and As for different audiences. Work with the CEO, subject matter expert and an attorney.
In summary, my advice is before you position yourself as a problem expert, know that it’s not a special message. All of us in public relations all problem experts. If you can't handle a problem you are in the wrong industry.
Photo credit: The woman in the hazmat suit and mask photo came from Canva Pro.
Michelle McIntyre is a tech #PR consultant in the Silicon Valley. An IBM and PR agency vet with 11 awards for outstanding media relations results, she has a passion for AI, data analytics, collaboration and storage.
@Michelle408 on Clubhouse, @FromMichelle on Twitter