We all know a crisis can happen at any time. In today’s uncertain economy, it is especially critical for organizations to respond not only quickly to crisis, but to respond with a plan. In this month’s eTip, we interviewed communications expert Susan Young, President of Get in Front Communications in San Antonio, Texas, on what every organization needs to know about crisis communications.
BMC: How long have you been helping companies with their PR and media needs and how did you get started?
Young: I started my Public Relations company (www.sueyoungmedia.com) nine years ago in New Jersey (my family moved to San Antonio in 2006). I decided to open my own business when I realized I had a unique media perspective and news contacts that could help businesses and nonprofits to grow. I had worked in radio news as an on-air reporter and a news director for 10 years in the most competitive media market in the country. I also ran NJ Governor Christie Whitman’s Office of Radio & TV, and did PR for a nonprofit. Business owners and nonprofits were turning to me for my opinions, strategies, story ideas and expertise in how they could get publicity. I became the conduit between these organizations and the media who knew me and trusted me. After all, I was a reporter and had been “in the trenches” like they were. I was creative and ambitious enough to quickly decide I could use the skills and knowledge I’ve acquired in news, government and nonprofits to start my own business and help both sides – clients who want to grow their organizations and reporters who need good news stories and sources.
Young: You must be proactive and have a plan in place BEFORE the crisis hits. It’s CRITICAL that your top leaders are coached in media and crisis communications so they are prepared, whether the situation takes place at 3:00 on a Tuesday afternoon or 3:00 on a Sunday morning. The bottom line is that your reputation, credibility and revenues are on the line. All of this can be quickly lost if you mishandle a crisis and reporters are there with TV cameras, tape recorders and notebooks, documenting and scrutinizing your every word, gesture and statement. A crisis or emergency that’s mishandled can literally wipe you out. Consider this: A restaurant chain or food store sells tainted food, a former disgruntled employee returns to your building and takes a hostage (or worse), a small plane crashes through the roof of your cafeteria leaving people badly injured, or a high level executive is arrested in the office on charges of child porn or embezzling money. These are not made-up stories – they are reality! Virtually every story I see in the media where one of these situations has taken place, someone is interviewed by the press and says, “We never thought it would happen here.” Think again.
Young: Work with an experienced news professional to develop a strategic plan on how you will respond and recover in a crisis. You’ll need to determine who is in charge, and who is the face and voice of your organization. Can you get a press release or statement out in 10 minutes? Who will be on camera and speak to reporters? Who will step in if your designated person in not available? Media coaching and interview techniques are crucial elements to your plan and the reputation and revenues of your organization.
Young: The first mistake is that they either don’t have a plan or they have one that is outdated. Your crisis communications plan should be reviewed and updated every six months.
Second, many businesses have people as their spokesperson or media rep that have not had specific training on how to handle news reporters in an emergency situation. Your CEO might be a great communicator in the Board Room or at conferences, but the media is an entirely different culture that requires special training.
Third, many organizations and companies listen to the opinions of people who don’t have intimate knowledge of how news reporters think and what they are looking for. Writing a press release or pitching stories for an interview is quite different than building a proactive crisis communications strategy that can save your business, reputation and livelihood. Go with experience.
Young: Follow the advice of Nike: Just Do It.
Susan Young works with businesses and nonprofits nationwide who want to increase their publicity, credibility and revenues. She’s a “Virtual PR Coach” and President of Get in Front Communications and Susan Young Media Relations, Inc. Their “Recession-Proof PR” program and “Kick Yourself in the Brand Communications Audits” (www.sueyoungmedia.com) create concise, compelling and cohesive PR and marketing messages for small and large companies. A media expert, award-winning entrepreneur, speaker and author, Susan provides keynotes and seminars on PR, communication, reading body language, sales, leadership, Emotional Intelligence, and motivation. She’s the author of Communicating with Confidence: Tips & Techniques for Powerful Business Communication. Susan also publishes a free monthly e-zine, The PR Buzz. Call 210.375.6422.