Paula Deen’s recent predicament should remind all companies, and the public figures who speak for them, to take stock in how they operate and prepare for a communications crisis. By getting ahead of concerns and asking themselves: “How are we going to respond in the face of a PR disaster,” brands can put into place policies and processes to remain as stable as possible under intense scrutiny.
Successfully recovering from PR missteps or nightmare—even with the existence of direct communication channels—still goes back to using basic communication skills. Engaging with audiences on social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube to get your message out is important. However, if you are not delivering an authentic and honest message, these channels can accelerate your demise.
Responding appropriately doesn’t (always) require a million dollar budget or a hired gun from Washington. Instead, simple, effective preparation can prevent you from needing to bring in a miracle worker to undo the damage. While every crisis situation is unique, responding with honesty and integrity will positively redirect most strained conversations. If you are in the public eye, consider these four simple, yet often underutilized strategies in your media response plan:
Tell Your Own Story
In almost every case, simply put you cannot hide the truth as it always has a habit of coming out. The 24/7 digital nature of communication makes it difficult to withhold details when the cat is out of the bag. Take a deep breath and attempt to be the first to tell your story in order to be in front of the debate and providing the most accurate representation. By not letting your story be dictated by shoddy guesswork, your brand gets to introduce the original perspective from which all other narratives derive.
Authentic & Honest
At this point, all eyes are on you. Be real. Be human. Speak simply and avoid technical or industry-specific jargon that can lead to confusion. In the end, it is better to present the truth clearly to set the record straight than to present confusion and miscommunication that can only bury you deeper in unwanted, and unneeded, negative publicity. Truth is the fastest and easiest (although sometimes painful) route to moving forward.
Say I’m Sorry
Say it loud and more than once to EVERYONE who needs to hear it. It’s that simple. Consider Tim Cook’s, CEO of Apple, apology for Apple’s faulty map app. He reinforces the brand message (world class products) while apologizing for consumer’s subpar experience. Further, the man thought to be in charge of the app’s development, Scott Forstall, is thought to have been fired for refusing to apologize.
Use moments of miscommunication as opportunities to show lessons learned. In regards to Paula Deen’s situation, one potential face-saving option is to use her situation as a platform to advance the nation’s ongoing discussion on race. Turning lemons into lemonade is fairly simple. Why not partner with a strong voice (Oprah!?) on race relations? This helps convert one person’s negative experience into an educational experience for the masses. Rather than being considered a continuance of the problem, the individual who had a gaffe becomes an ambassador and representative of the solution.
The good news is that most people, when presented with facts and not fiction, will forgive and forget. Remember: We all make mistakes…but in the case of PR, don’t make them twice.