Adjusting media outreach at times of crisis

November 24, 2016 by Leela Bozonelis

When a disaster or another source of bad publicity strikes a company, this is when PR agencies and departments earn their keep. Of course, not every organisation will thrive under tough circumstances. These events separate good PR teams that can provide positive return on investment from those that struggle.

The media landscape has changed a great deal in recent years, and becoming a good PR partner for a brand means following these shifts and adjusting along with them. Crisis management tactics must reflect the world as it is now. If your approach to media outreach during a crisis is current and competent, your value proposition will be clear.

Adjust to avoid gaffes

The nature of crises puts the onus on teams to not make any communication mistakes when scrutiny is at its height. Every error keeps eyes on the company longer, making the negative story linger in public consciousness. There is a true value in keeping a steady hand on the wheel until the worst of a crisis has passed.

According to PR Daily contributor Zach Schapira, one of the key ways to avoid unforced errors is to communicate with marketing and ensure that paid media buys don't clash with earned coverage. This means making certain that the crisis management strategy contains provisions about what the marketing department should do to support PR to avoid situations where ads for the company are too prominent during the height of the negative news cycle.

The amount of damage that could be done to a brand by one negative confluence of marketing materials and a measured media response is significant, especially due to the fact that such an event would almost surely extend the fallout of the crisis for another news cycle. This is why Schapira suggests working with every department responsible for advertising and paid marketing. In today's highly developed corporate structures, there can be many sections that fit this description.

Having a plan still matters

One of the unchallenged assumptions of the above approach is that there should be a solid plan in place for when disaster strikes. While some experts have decided this mode of PR preparation is old-fashioned and doesn't work in the current high-speed climate, others are adamant that there is still value in planning crisis communications well in advance.

PRWeek contributor Giles Read recently came down strongly in favor of planning ahead. He noted that even in a quick and reactive world, there is value in having pre-prepared statements. These can be issued right as a crisis breaks in the media, delivering an opening salvo that will act as a helpful table-setter for the more tailored communications to follow.

Read did acknowledge, however, that a modern crisis management strategy must be in tune with the high speed of the modern environment. If you leave your strategies unexamined for too long, they may become obsolete or fall out of step with what other sections of the company plan to do during negative situations. Every year seems to bring changes in how organizations speak to the public and what the media and general audiences expect from them. Staying aware of those evolving circumstances is a PR must.

Are you ready?

When disaster strikes, some companies sink and others float through the storm. If you want to see the latter kind of response, you should be ready to coordinate your efforts with other departments and avoid communication errors that can keep problems in the public eye for an artificially long time.

Having the right tech tools on your side will help you navigate these situations, as it's hard to be at your best if you lack visibility into the many outreach channels and media platforms that are seeing use today. If you can draft a secure crisis management plan and execute it smoothly, your department's value will become clear.

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