If you are in the public eye, you may at some point in your career have to deal with a crisis. Politician, CEO, celebrity, blogger or public relations professional, you are not immune. The crisis that presents itself may be as insignficant as a birthday candle’s flame, quickly extinguished. It could become a towering inferno that rivals Dante’s creation. Usually, there is one factor that determines whether the spark is blown out or fanned into flame: your reaction.
Whether you meant to be edgy or not, you had a momentary lapse of judgment and posted something you shouldn’t have. Maybe your statements were misinterpreted or taken out of context. Maybe the CEO of your company said something controversial, and the public unleashed on the brand. Or perhaps you were just going along minding your own business, when activists hijacked your Twitter hashtag.
While controversy can’t always be avoided, there are a few steps you can take to avoid the crossfire of a public relations crisis.
1. Develop a Crisis Risk List
Stop and think of the possible things that could go wrong, and then make a list. Divide those items into groups for mild, moderate and severe risk. Sure, we can’t predict everything, but we can get into the practice of looking at an action and foreseeing the possible ramifications.
For a blogger, the list may include accidentally disclosing confidential information, unknowingly offending a certain race, gender or person with a special need, tweeting via the wrong account or having a compromising photo uploaded to social media. And the list goes on.
For a publicist, you may be concerned about a blogger writing derogatory information about you or your brand, something inappropriate happening on a fam trip, impropriety (or the appearance of) in relationships with press/bloggers, or even misinterpretation of an event.
2. Develop a Crisis Management Plan
For each possible risk, think through steps to avoid that issue and respond if it does occur. The steps will be unique for each situation, each brand, and each person. But do not fail to start the thought process of responding to mishaps.
3. Take precautions in your every day life that could help you later.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Live and work with integrity. I’m amazed at some of the people I see every day who appear to have no sense of ethics. Those same people feel they are victims to those who hold them to some semblance of integrity. If people know you are a trustworthy, upstanding person, they will forgive the occasional misstep. If they see something that seems offensive, they’ll also give you the benefit of the doubt before going public.
- Be sure that appropriate relationships are being maintained at all times. Personal relationships are just that – personal. If you are a publicist, or a gate-keeper who decides who to invite to events and hire for jobs, keep those over whom you have power at arm’s length – at least in public. There’s no need to post your crazy partying photos or inside jokes. This goes double if you use your social media profiles for brand work. If you are a blogger, do you see the conflict of interest when posting pics of you and the CMO of XYZ Company partying, especially when he just happened to give you a huge blogging contract or swanky trip? And for the love of everything good, don’t brag about being a gatekeeper with statements like, “You’d better be nice to me if you want to be invited to….”
- Think before posting. There are LOTS of things that go through my head every day, and I’m tempted to put them all out there on social media. But especially now that I work for a large organization, I need to think, EVERY TIME, whether that statement, photo, or video could be offensive or misconstrued. Does it cramp my style? Sometimes. But I make the choice, and you should too.
- Lock down privacy settings. Facebook has these things called Lists, and other things called Private Groups. Use them. I have a few lists where I can share things with only chosen Facebook friends. I might use this for politics or local events. If I really want to say something that only my close friends will understand, I do it in a group or a private message. Will this photo possibly be misunderstood? Could it be offensive to someone? Post it privately, if you must.
“But… I did all of these tips, and I had no idea that post would be interpreted to offend!”
“My friend had no idea that photo would get me in hot water. It was more innocent than it looked!”
“I got too close to that blogger, and then when I didn’t choose her for a project, she lashed out.”
It happens. Everyone makes mistakes. What do you do when it finally happens to YOU? Stay tuned for my next post, “How to survive a Public Relations Crisis.”
For now, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes, as you share your tips for avoiding PR crises in the comments.
“It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” –Epictetus
Photo © karuka – Right to use purchased at Fotolia.com