Handling a PR crisis? Sweet FA is not the answer

Press for Attention PR
Greg Simpson - on a mission to tell 2020 stories by 2020

By Greg Simpson, founder of Press for Attention PR and Enterprise Nation Champion for Nottingham.

Unless you have been living under a rock this week, you may have noticed that the (now former) England manager Sam Allardyce got himself and his employers into a bit of a pickle.

The FA is known for its panic responses and also for its dithering, so I was intrigued to see how they’d handle this. In the end, I think they did the only thing they could do, acting swiftly and decisively. They even issued a holding statement acknowledging the furore but stressing that they would respond properly in time. It was very well handled under incredible scrutiny.

So what should you do if say, one of your team “does a Ratner?”

Ok, you’re going to need to take a look at your crisis communications plan. You have got one haven’t you? You haven’t? Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you. Let’s take a look at what you SHOULD have done before this all kicked off.

PR and handling the media is about relationships. You can’t expect to just waltz up to a journalist “delighted” with your good news if he/she doesn’t know you or your company from Adam/Eve.

Relationships in business are crucial, whether it is with clients, suppliers, employees or the media. Journalists need stories. Good news stories make great copy but unfortunately so do negative stories. Journalists deal in news. Your bad news is just as important to them as your good news.

Obviously you can try and just waltz up and beg for leniency but you’ll have a far better chance of a positive response and some quality editorial if you have bothered to do some groundwork, found out what they want, when they want it and begun to build a two-way relationship.

So, what can you do? Don’t bury your head in the sand and hope it will go away because the deadline for comment will pass before you get back to them. There really are two sides to every story and you need to ensure you get yours over. If it involves you, or your business, you really should be on top of the facts.

If you are still looking into the situation or are legally shackled, say so, but clarify any information that you can and don’t leave things open to speculation. If you ignore or shun a journalist, speculation is all they have to go on and any relationship built up to date is ruined or scuppered before you’ve even begun.

If you do go down the “no comment” route you don’t look like an iron-willed corporate shark, you look ill-informed, unprepared and sometimes, unsympathetic. There is only one thing you can control in a crisis – preparation. If you work in a more high risk environment consider the “what if” scenarios.

What would you do if X happened? What are your processes for clarifying the situation, communicating it to colleagues and then the media? In that order? Yes, I think so. Your employees deserve to know the facts from you and not from tomorrow’s papers. Also, if you do go for the “no comment” approach, guess where the journalist is heading next?

In conclusion, journalists are not out to get you, they are out to get a story. Make sure at least half of it is yours.