Module 1.

Module 2.
PR events

Module 3.
Understanding the media

Module 4.
Effective media releases

Module 5.
Preparing the newsmaker

Crisis management

Module 7.
Campaign strategy

Module 8.
PR tool kit



Module 6: Crisis management

For most organizations, a crisis is a barrage of urgent, unexpected unpleasant events that allows no time to think, organize, or plan appropriate actions. Unfortunately most organizations begin to plan for crisis after the crisis hits. This is a mistake.

There are three best ways to approach crisis situations:

1) Avoid a crisis in the first place (an ounce of prevention is worth a ton of cure);
2) Quickly address and resolve crisis issues before they escalate;
3) Seek possible ways to turn your crisis into an opportunity.

For example:

It was in Los Angeles, California, in the middle of a drought, when a huge water pipe burst right in the middle of one of the busiest streets, the Ventura Blvd, causing the road to split apart. Water flooded the street and sidewalks, closing all the businesses. The area was blocked off, so no customers could get to any of the businesses. But the news media were everywhere. One of the businesses in the flood area was a hamburger restaurant called Mel’s Diner. Since he didn’t have any customers, Mel started giving away free hamburgers to the workers repairing the water pipe. The TV news crews took video of this, and that evening thousands of viewers saw a happy report on what a fine citizen Mel’s Diner is. For the cost of a few hamburgers, Mel got the kind of media coverage you just can’t buy, because he did the right thing at the right time.

Five critical steps in crisis management

The goal of a crisis management plan should be containment and positive counteraction. Here are the five critical steps:

1) Structure and plan. Hypothesize the worst scenarios and circumstances, and then the best possible outcomes. Work backwards from the outcome to identify the steps needed to reach that goal.

2) Analyze and critique. Set up a crisis-control committee and talk through the plan, event by event, situation by situation, and develop a schematic that “visualizes” how the plan works.

3) Test and demonstrate. Conduct rehearsals or simulations as close to full-scale as possible.

4) Establish contingencies. Include “what if’s.” Identify outside experts who can work side-by-side with your people before the situation gets out of control. Include them in your tests and analyses, too.

5) Coach and train spokespersons as quickly as possible, and routinely thereafter. They will lead, focus and control the organization’s crisis-plan execution and reaction to crisis. Before any crisis hits, make sure you have a crisis-control chain of command.

Crisis Case Study

Let’s say you are a developer who bought a large apartment building in the middle of Moscow occupied primarily by elderly people, and you plan to turn it into a luxury hotel. You are going to throw the old folks out so you can do this. The media love this kind of story, and they will likely portray you as a villain. Reporters will ask you why you are throwing the old people out on the street.

How would you respond to reporters' questions? Submit your strategy ideas here, and then consider one possible message strategy we've provided.

One final instance of how a crisis can be turned into an opportunity for good PR:

Johnson and Johnson is a large medicine company in the United States. Several years ago (1986) someone put capsules poisoned with lethal amounts of cyanide in Johnson and Johnson medicine bottles of Tylenol on store shelves. Before anyone could do anything, seven people died from the poisoned medicine. The company met the crisis head-on. First, they spent $300-million recalling all samples of the medicine bottles. Then they introduced new tamper-proof medicine containers that changed the entire industry. But most importantly, the company was prepared, it acted coolly, they answered the tough questions, and in the end maintained their dominance in the market. They used the media to demonstrate their concern and their determination to resolve the crisis. It was a message of courage and leadership through effective public relations. (Learn more about this case and additional examples of other companies' successful crisis management strategies here.)

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Remember the old rule: the best defense is a good offense. And always look for a new opportunity in the middle of a crisis.

Module 7: Campaign strategy: using PR in your political and issue campaign.