PR and Social, In a Time of Crisis

By Scott Signore

Earlier this week I was discussing with my colleagues the many ways good PR and social media can help start-ups during a crisis, which, left unchecked, can spread like wildfire in today’s digital age. That discussion inspired me to capture some thoughts below. Here are a few PR steps to take that will benefit early-stage companies during a crisis:

First, the basics of crisis communications always apply – no matter the organization’s age or history. Reacting and responding quickly, being proactive with a message to the market, and being fully transparent are always appropriate no matter the crisis details. The only caveat would be if the entity is legally prohibited from discussing the crisis, but those instances are few and far between.

Second, prepare. During the first few weeks of an engagement with a client, we sit down and talk about the potential topics or incidents that could arise and lead to crisis. We’re not paranoid, we just know that being armed with knowledge around things that could go wrong puts everyone in a much better spot if/when a crisis occurs. You can even get general statements about potential crises approved by legal ahead of time so that, in the heat of the moment, only the specific details need to be scrutinized – leading to a much quicker approval process/response time.

Third, the reaction is about adjusting audience perspective or mitigating damage. That being said, whatever strategy is employed shouldn’t change the fundamental direction of communications efforts, as our objectives (as communications professionals) remain that same: deliver key messages to pre-identified audiences in a way that drives more business. So, while it’s important to make smart decisions and address the immediate issue, don’t shift overall positioning or run away from identity. This also goes for the channels of communication. If your organization is active on Facebook and Twitter, it’s absolutely appropriate to post your response or statement on these channels. However, the time to launch your Twitter handle or blog is not in the time of crisis. To do so would come off as disingenuous and is likely do more harm than good.

Fourth, timeliness is key, but taking a deep breath and thinking through your response and/or approach is smart. While you need to be speedy, you need to be smart, too, and skipping this step of honest reflection may result in a well-intentioned effort gone awry, and potentially fan the flames of whatever fire is burning. Be mindful of both the short and long-term objectives of the organization before crafting your response. And, don’t forget that it’s OK to say “we’re looking into this” as a way to acknowledge it, but gain a bit of time to understand the situation.

Fifth, consider leveraging external resources to help strengthen your story. Any effective program is bolstered by adding customer and market perspective to news announcements, or the content shared in interviews and thought leadership pieces. Third party validation is powerful at all points in the communications process, and can be particularly helpful when directly addressing a perceived crisis situation.

And, finally, get everyone on board, from colleagues to customers. That is, be certain you spend time communicating directly to your internal audiences before and/or immediately after you go to the market. While being up-front and deliberate, deliver messages of stability and long-term focus, ensuring that your foundation will remain strong as you address specifics.

What else should be done for early-stage companies during a time of crisis?