In a crisis situation, clients with high visibility often are lost on the best way to interact with their crisis counselor. In the crisis management industry, what role does the public relations specialist play when helping a client?
Take this weekend’s Tiger Woods story – or debacle, depending on who you ask. We can thank the era of the rapidly evolving media platform for broadcasting a torrent of details in the past 24 hours. The narrative already involves the world’s best golfer, a supermodel, possibly a mistress, rumors of prescription medication, a car crash, the parties avoiding police investigators, and who knows what else.
Here’s how smart PR crisis management should approach this media lightning rod:
First, when it comes to crisis communications, a competent public relations firm must adopt strict confidentiality protocols similar to those of a lawyer or physician. The public relations industry doesn’t have a licensing system like law or medicine (though perhaps it should!), but a letter of engagement or contract for services must include non-disclosure agreement (“NDA”) principles. As with these other professional services, confidentiality encourages frank discussion about the client’s problems, which allows the publicist to generate creative, thorough solutions.
Second, the publicist should recommend crisis communication steps only when they believe the client has provided all the facts. That way the first public response – which is likely the one most media will cover immediately – can address all pertinent details and define the terms of the debate before any outspoken commentator or enemy does. You can take control of the story and then begin driving the narrative the way you want it to go.
Third, any crisis communication plan must NEVER, ever say “no comment.” The veritable confession of guilt before the media’s eyes, “no comment” begs reporters, pundits, bloggers and anyone else to speculate on what really happened instead of you telling people the actual facts (see the second point above).
Crisis management 101 rightfully instructs the embattled person to run straight into the crisis so you can wrestle it to the ground. Each crisis situation is unique in its own details, but like the laws of physics, the fundamentals remain constant. It’s a long weekend, so Tiger’s publicists still have the chance to steer the narrative favorably to their client before everyone beats their Thanksgiving hangover and gets back to the grind Monday morning. The clock is ticking…