Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Crisis Communications: How to Pre-empt Negative Publicity

Why Pre-empt Negative Publicity?
 
One communications strategy I teach participants of my crisis communications workshops is the concept of pre-empting negative publicity. Conceptually, as any response to a crisis will always be seen by stakeholders as reactive, even if the response is factual and is the 100% truth, stakeholders will invariably ask themselves if the response is spin.  As such, the more effective strategy in managing a crisis is to pre-empt it.
 
Usually at this point, participants will have a puzzled look on their faces.  Doesn't the nature of a crisis means it is unpredictable?  If it is unpredictable, then does it not mean that you cannot pre-empt it?  The answer is yes and no.
 
Predicting a Crisis
 
Yes, a crisis is unpredictable in the sense that you never know when it will happen.  But no, a crisis is always predictable in that you can usually foresee the likely types that will happen.  For example, in high risk industries like construction, you will never know when a construction worker will be injured from falling debris or a fall from a high place.  However, using past accident or near miss data, you can identify the types and scenarios where accidents occur.  With this knowledge, you can then take proactive actions to pre-empt negative publicity.
 
Pre-empting a Crisis
 
The concept of pre-empting is to put in place what I term supporting or contradictory information in support of your organization before a crisis happens.  Thus, if your analysis shows that negative publicity due to company negligence or lack of care for workers is a likely outcome of a workplace injury, your company should regularly issue news releases of actions you have taken to care for your workers. Such actions can be an education program where workers are regularly reminded of the need to follow safe work practices.  Or, it can be the winning of a government or third party work safety award. Or even a town hall meeting with the CEO where he speaks about work place safety.
 
With such information firmly in the stakeholder's mind before the accident occurs, stakeholders will immediately reference their past impression of the company's attitude towards it workers and negative publicity is unlikely to happen.  Contrast this to when an accident occurs and the company begins issuing statements of the past actions they have taken to ensure work place safety.  Which is likely to have a stronger effect?
 
Conclusion
 
In short, pre-empting is a powerful strategy to negate negative publicity. And as the above example shows, it is not as difficult as it seems.  All it takes is for the corporate communications team to be pro-active in crisis communications.
 
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CW Fong & Associates is a boutique communications consultancy specializing in crisis communications and social media marketing. If you wish to have in-house workshop on Managing Crisis Communications in the Era of Social Media, contact our consultants at justin[a]cwfongandassociates.com

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