PR Part 3: Resolving a Media Crisis

PR Part 3: Resolving a Media Crisis


Whether it’s the latest professional athlete scandal, a revealing political bashing, or a brand not holding true to its values, we’ve all heard a media crisis story.  The response to these crises often sets the stage for whether the organizations will be able to recover from their crises. Every brand, business, and person can face a public relations crisis.  The key to coming through the other side of a crisis is having a plan and knowing when to follow through.

Anticipating a Media Crisis

The most successful method for navigating through a crisis is to plan for it before it happens.  When a crisis occurs, your immediate reaction is to respond and contradict the severity of the criticism. This reaction is actually a mistake.

Before responding, you should take a moment to reflect and research the situation in order to careful form a response that will not make the situation worse.  This reflective process can be a time consuming process that does not always fit well into the time-frame of responding to a crisis.  By constructing a plan in advance, you allow yourself more time to research and reflect on the situation and properly form responses based on the severity of the interaction.  Thus, when the crisis actually occurs, all you need to do is gauge the severity of the crisis and turn to the appropriately scaled response.

What are my potential crises?

The type of crises your organization could face depend on the specifics of your organization and your industry. The best way to identify possible crises is by looking closely at your organization for areas that could be viewed unfavorably by opposing or partner organizations.  For instance, a gas drilling company needs to be prepared for errors or malfunctions in their drilling process that could illicit a response from environmental groups, and a family-focused organization would need to be wary of whether any of their merchandise is produced through child labor.

Recognizing a Media Crisis

While you are in the mindset of looking for negative responses, it is important to remember that not every negative reaction constitutes a crisis.  Just because one person gives you a negative review on Yelp or Twitter doesn’t mean you should launch your entire crisis management campaign against them.  This reaction will most like cause an actual widespread crisis.  Instead respond in scale to the situation.  In this case, it would be a comment on the review providing context to others reading the review while you justify or remedy your actions.

What are the signs that I’m dealing with a crisis?
  1. there’s a threat to the organization
  2. the threat comes as a surprise
  3. you have a short decision time
  4. resolution may require some change by the organization
McDonald’s introduces their new Happy Meal Mascot, Happy on Twitter. When Happy receives a negative reaction, McDonald’s has to respond to the crisis in Twitter.

Responding to a Media Crisis

When you know you are in a crisis, now is the time to turn to and implement your crisis management plan. Things to remember in this moment are:

  • the response should match the scale of the crisis
  • have a dedicated spokesperson distribute information
  • respond through the same channel where the crisis started

Our Previous Posts …

This post was the third and final post in a series of posts on public relations this month.  If you missed our first post, PR Part 1: The Media Pitching Process, we discussed the steps involved in successfully pitching a story to the media.  Our second post, PR Part 2: The Social Frontier discusses how to manage your reputation through social networks.

Carlos Danger Needs a Crisis Manager

Media Relations PR

 by Eric Sloss, Shift partner

New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner is a great case study for what not to do during a crisis. He resigned from Congress for texting photos of his penis to various women he randomly met. A couple of years later, now running for Mayor of New York City, Weiner continued to send photos digitally under the nom de guerre “Carlos Danger.” One would expect a popular politician to have the money and support to find the right way to handle a crisis.
But methodically he severely damaged his chances to win the most coveted mayoral position in the world by mismanaging his own crisis. His wife, Huma Abedin, who took the Tammy Wynette tune “Stand by Your Man” right out of Hilary Rodham Clinton’s soundtrack, has tarnished her own image by her commitment to her husband. Abedin did not have to go far to find Clinton’s playlist—she is part of the former U.S. Secretary of State’s transition team. I was in New York City for business when the second Weiner photo revealed itself (sorry, I had to do it). New Yorkers interviewed by local news outlets were dismayed and disgusted by his actions, and by his wife’s commitment to her husband. His approval rating was 55% and his disapproval rating was 33% when I landed on Tuesday.

These numbers were turned on their head within a day. We have read all the headlines “Weiner’s Rise and Fall,” “Too Hard to Stop,” and my personal favorite “Stick a Fork in the Weiner.” Yes, his name does not help the crisis. When a client’s name is part of the jokes, professional communications consultants can only pray that the intelligent quotient of the fine citizens of America – for this particular instance New York City voters – will raise a few brain points and look past all the digs. One of the important tenets of communicating during a crisis is to define the problem, and Weiner clearly has yet to accomplish this. As much as we hate ourselves for laughing at the headline “Tip of the Weiner,” we also dislike Weiner for not telling us the truth: he may have mental disorder—an addictive illness that blends sexual dysfunction with ego. If you ask any professional in the crisis communication sector, defining the problem is the very first step, which his team has yet to do.

One of the many characteristics of a crisis that Weiner and company are currently facing is omnipresent media. Major metropolitan regions with a wealth of news outlets can sniff out a crisis, escalate it, and sustain a crisis for a long period of time. The New York City setting, one of the media capitals of the world, doesn’t help either. If this happened in, say, Weiner, Arkansas (yes, this is a real city), this might not be a headline of the Wienerschnitzel Bugle. Or at very least, those of us in Pittsburgh wouldn’t hear about the mayoral candidate who likes to share his privates online.

There are many principles of crisis communications. Professional consultation should tell him to use the Relationship Principle to his benefit, which tells those in a crisis to nurture their reputations. Weiner is doing this well, and it is almost his only option at this point in the race—he is a well-liked politician. However, he is doing a bad job of explaining himself and he is not executing the important Accountability Principle very well, which insists that “I’m sorry” won’t cut it. Nothing less than a full-out explanation with total candor and contrition will do.

Voters need to hear what psychological diagnosis he has, how he is going to deal with it, and most importantly, how it might affect him as in running one of the most vibrant cities in the modern world. The Disclosure Principle guides those in a crisis to tell as much as they can, as soon as they can. Running for Mayor in the city that never sleeps affords Weiner a lot of air time. The problem and the solution should be included in one of his many media appearances that are sure to come over the next few weeks. I have no horse in this race but my professional guidance tells me that in the final stanzas of this historic mayoral effort, Weiner needs to go back to step number one and define the problem.

He needs to tell the truth about his mental disorder and clearly state that he will not do it again, and assure the public that it will have no impact on his ability to represent New York City residents. He might gain a few votes on a sympathy message.