Crisis Managment: The Golden Hour
For international public relations experts, the “golden hour”, in times of crisis is crucial. The term dates back to WW2 when surgeons discovered that patients were more likely to bleed to death if they were not treated within the first hour of their injury.
My favourite definition of a crisis is by the duo Ruff and Aziz, they define a crisis as ‘any incident or situation whether real, rumoured or alleged, that can focus negative attention on a company or an organisation internally, in the media, or before key audiences’. We tend forget that a rumor with no basis in reality can also cause problems for an organization.
The steps taken in the first hour of a crisis oft determines whether it will cause major reputational damage, or minor reputational damage...because, let’s face it, there will be damage, otherwise it would not be a crisis.
In PR terms, this basically means you have 60 minutes to put a plan together. Good communication experts can do this, the great ones already have such plans ready to go in the form of a Crisis Management Plan.
I hear you thinking, but how can one predict a crisis? Isn’t every crisis unique?
Sure, crises come in different shapes and sizes, but the history of crisis communication tells the tale of them usually being similar across industries. These include:
Harmful or offensive tweets or Facebook posts;
Associated influencer gone rogue,
Sexual misconduct (allegations or accusations);
Unfavorable articles or TV news reports;
Employees breaching protocols or down right misbehaving (usually caught on camera);
Unnatural and natural disasters;
I thought of all those in less than a minute! Think of all the crises that can affect your company.
Morley in How to Manage your Global Reputation: A Guide to the Dynamics of International Public Relations suggests there are ten kinds of crises, four of which are what he termed ‘slow-burning issues’ which, with early intervention, can be addressed appropriately, these include:
action by pressure groups and
The remaining six, he suggests often comes as surprises such as:
Disclosures or revelations;
Disasters or accidents;
Product recalls due to tampering or mistakes
These all sound familiar right? So you see, they can be the subject of planning. In my experience, if you can foresee them, you can plan for them. Sure all the details will never be the same, but having a framework is better than nothing.
A basic framework for initial response looks something like this:
Communicate without delay
Communicating immediately shows that you have the situation under control. Hiding and hoping the matter goes away doesn’t help the company or the customers/clients. It will just make the media more suspicious.
Tell the truth (about what you know)
Lying will only leave room for another crisis to rear its ugly head, soon after the current one. To avoid that, tell the truth about what you know about the situation. It may not be much, but the public, specific stakeholders and the media will appreciate it.
Talk about your plan of action - How are you gonna fix this?
By speaking up quickly, you have given the impression you have a plan, so state what the plan of action is, even if it is not comprehensive. That said, ensure you actually do have a plan; talking out of one’s rear end will not be a good look and you may end up contradicting yourself in future communication. Have a rough draft of the plan and what you can say about it at the very least.
Keep the lines of communication open
This point is at the foundation of all these steps because they all contribute to transparency. There is nothing to hide, therefore there is no reason to close communication. If you keep communicating, chances are the media and other concerned groups will be more likely to exercise patience.
After a crisis has passed, especially when handled successfully, you want to add them to your playbook...for obvious reasons.
All these basic steps are essential in the golden hour. Suitable for when you know exactly what's happening or trying to find out. It will give a communicator time and control.
It is important to note that crises are not all bad, they come with opportunities, its up to communicators to find and capitalize. I’ll address that in upcoming articles.
Thanks for reading.