The Five PR Opportunities Of Crisis: Crisis and opportunity: Two sides of the same coin

The Five PR Opportunities Of Crisis: Crisis and opportunity: Two sides of the same coin

Written by: Jacqueline Strayer, New York University

“When written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity.” – John F. Kennedy. When lecturing to my graduate students about crisis I use this quote to launch discussion of the subject. Why? Because we often focus on that first Chinese character only… danger. Organizations often get paralyzed during a crisis. People become consumed with working long, frenzied, and stressful hours addressing the issues at hand. In public relations (PR), we focus on the rules and stages of a crisis… including early detection signals, response, apology, restitution, and ultimately forgiveness.
However, we can overlook what the second part of JFK’s quote addresses – The opportunity. Not to say that a crisis is something we welcome. However, it can provide a PR opportunity for your organization and create much goodwill in unexpected ways. These form the “Five Opportunities of a Crisis.”

1. Develop your Team

For those who have worked on a crisis you know this is where you earn your stripes. Experience and wisdom rule. So… this is a time when you can help those less experienced in the area of crisis shadow those who are front and center on the crisis.
Have them work on tasks they are able to support in your crisis response and at the same time have a seat at the table where issues are discussed, strategies developed and plans implemented. There often will never be a better training ground and for them to feel part of this experience will not only bolster their capabilities (and that of your organization) but also build loyalty and camaraderie among your team.

2. Tell the Stories

In PR, we are the organization’s storytellers. Often times, crisis is an area where we neglect to do so. However, during a crisis we can usually surface many heroes in our organization, whether they are individuals or teams who have come together to address the crisis and bring in a more favorable resolution.
Whatever the crisis, whether it is physical such as a hurricane or a tornado, financial, where you need to reduce staff and expenses, or a customer or product issue, we have many heroes we should be highlighting. Tell their story. Or better still get them to tell it. And while doing so you can underscore important organizational values to your employees and the outside world.

3. Conduct Scenario Planning

This is an incredibly powerful tool you can use. What are the possible things that can go wrong in the current crisis situation? Or more wrong then they are going? Are you actively looking at potential new or additional risks the organization could be threatened by? Through engaging your team and often a third party expert, you can critically and constructively come up with a range of things that could happen that might further derail or disrupt the great work you are doing on the crisis at hand.

And potentially create a bigger crisis. Strategy consultants use scenario planning all the time. So does the military. As PR practitioners, we can learn from this. Take a look at potential things that could go wrong. Hone those critical thinking skills, and step back and survey the terrain and all the minefields that could explode.

Develop a plan for each of them. This would include the specific strategies you would build around them, messages that you would need to address them and the tactical communication elements to support them. This proactive approach will be an organizational standout for you and your team and your functional colleagues likely will be impressed by what you have assembled that often they will follow suit in other areas.

4. Measure Outcomes:

In PR, we are always trying to show our value and we construct different types of quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods to measure that. During a crisis, this often gets overlooked due to the frenzy of being in one. What better time to measure your success than during a crisis? Crisis is a brand building moment. Treat it that way. So, this is a time to pump up the volume on metrics and actually review what it being said about your company inside and outside. Measure your online presence, the resonance of your messages, the effectiveness of media materials and internal communications.
Often times the use of focus interviews or groups with your own employees can help you understand the sentiment that exists inside your organization and what needs to be done. This also can be applied to other stakeholder groups much like we do with brand research, with customers, investors suppliers, NGOs and others. Ensure your communications are effective with all your stakeholder groups. Make changes to what you are doing if you need to.

Midcourse corrections show responsiveness. And humility. Don’t be afraid to admit you missed the mark if you did. How courageous (and enlightened) you will be by asking people what they think rather than playing the waiting game to look for what they end up saying about you through other channels.

5. Build Transparency:

Take those measurement outcomes, stories you have profiled and developmental experiences you have created and communicate what you have been doing to your team, peers, organization, and stakeholders. Seize the moment to build your own visibility and leadership for you and your team. Results, including your successes, can and should be acknowledged and celebrated during a crisis. Important and meaningful work is taking place.

By following these five important steps, you will embrace the opportunity JFK so astutely recognized in both the Chinese characters that form the word crisis. SSE

Copyright 2016. All rights reserved.

Author Bio

Jacqueline Strayer
is a faculty member in the Graduate Program in PR and Corporate Communications at New York University. She has counseled senior leaders on a wide range of crisis in her corporate and consulting career.

Connect Jacqueline Strayer
Follow @jfstrayer

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