In crisis management and crisis PR, *the* most precious commodity is time. Events happen so rapidly that you don’t have to time to determine if you have the upper hand. One day your business is coasting along, but the next day you’re causing a mega-environmental disaster, accused of bribing regulators, facing allegations of financial crimes, or trying to figure out if an opponent is more bark than bite.
Staring down the barrel of a lawsuit? What’s your litigation PR strategy? Better be more than hoping for limited liability. Your business may be at the mercy of civil procedure rules and a trier of fact, but don’t forget that the rules of the court of public opinion are totally different.
To leverage those circumstances in your favor, your business must take steps before you face litigation. Your public relations counsel should conduct a thorough risk assessment and identify all weak spots of potential negative publicity. Still, effective risk assessment is more than scanning your business operations – the analysis must connect with messaging, otherwise you’re wasting your money on ineffective consultants.
That’s why your business must be armed with a holding statement that can be aimed at each potential publicity hit or reporter inquiry. Nothing appears worse (or more guilty) than inaction or “no comment.” Ask yourself, who are your stakeholders – customers, regulators, business partners, activists, employees, maybe others? If they suspect being cheated somehow by your business, what will you say when the microphones are in your face?
Specific holding statements can address initial concerns and buy you time to regroup, take a deep breath and implement the extended PR strategy. Don’t assume that your folksy charm, steel spine or other character trait will woo rabid press into submission. Speaking on the fly only reinforces the image of being unprofessional, and worse, indifferent to the crisis.
Appreciate the importance of prior planning, finalize your holding statement and be patient – by doing so you’ve already made a strong opening statement in the court of public opinion.