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Prepare your crisis communications plan--even for when someone else is in crisis

When Rod Blagojevich first faced federal charges of scheming to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama, his healthy head of hair became a media caricature and prompted Inside Edge PR to seize the crisis communications moment.
When Rod Blagojevich first faced federal charges of scheming to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama, his healthy head of hair became a media caricature and prompted Inside Edge PR to seize the crisis communications moment.
Inside Edge PR

In the 24/7 warp speed of today’s media world, speed is king.

In other words, the moment you think that you have a timely tie-in to a hot story is the same moment you must begin taking action to capitalize on it by reaching out to the media. Waiting a day, or a few hours, or even a few minutes, holds the potential to knock you out of contention.

Often, someone else has moved faster than you, or something else has already captured the media’s short attention span. As a result, one essential element of crisis communications is to have "talking points" primed and ready to go, any time a relevant story surfaces.

It's important to note, too, that the "crisis" in the communications does not necessarily mean that your organization is engulfed in the crisis. It could well be that your organization is simply weighing in on a crisis elsewhere. That's the ideal sort of scenario, because crises tend to be detrimental to one's own operations.

Here’s one example to make this point of identifying a local link to an ongoing—or hot-off-the-press—regional, national or international story: let's say a prominent actor, athlete or other well-known figure suffers serious injuries in a motorcycle crash while not wearing a helmet. Any company that makes helmets, trains motorcyclists on safety, or otherwise is part of the industry ought to immediately contact the media with an advisory that they are available to discuss some relevant aspect of that story.

Beyond that, providing a few bulleted lists--of safety tips, of statistics related to helmet safety and motorcycle ridership, and significant milestones in motorcycle history--essentially paves the way for media outlets to easily turn around the story. In short, do the upfront work for a TV station, radio station or newspaper, and you separate yourself from the pack as a genuine media ally and asset.

Another example of riding the coattails of another's crisis occurred five years ago. At that time, Inside Edge PR promoted Charo’s Hair Salon, an Elmwood Park business, in the midst of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s early-stage legal woes. Through creation of a news release and subsequent media outreach that included photos and even a copy of the letter sent to Blagojevich, Charo's offered to shave the governor’s head for charity.

Although Blago declined to go "Bald-o," local media outlets enjoyed giving the gesture some tongue-in-check coverage as it provided welcome relief from the U.S. Senate seat-for-sale saga's sleazy underside.

The simple process of developing your expert points is to consider the fundamentals of your industry, then wrap those basics into a slightly expanded message. Such a message should communicate:

*Where someone strayed from the industry's fundamentals.

If there's an appropriate, legal, effective way of doing something, then deviations from that established norm are what so often cause an organization to go adrift and attract nightmare PR. Depending on the depth of your expertise, and the nature of the details that have been made public about the crisis-ridden organization, you may be able to offer a unique insight that represents a new, and newsworthy, chapter in the unfolding story.

At this stage, it's important to acknowledge the reality that there is a "bad apple" element in your field.

Affirming that truth helps put you on a respectful footing with your audience. When they speak to audiences about the Amway sales and marketing plan, in Chicagoland and elsewhere, World Wide Group leaders such as Bill Hawkins and Howie Danzik readily acknowledge that not everyone in the history of their profession has been a shining example of business acumen or ethics.

By doing so, they come alongside their audience as genuine communicators who are not blind to history, while at the same time laying a foundation of how they are markedly different than that history's negative stereotypes.

*What steps they should take to restore not only those fundamentals, but also trust in their organization.

Here's where you can really flex some authoritative muscle and demonstrate expertise in the marketplace. As long as the other pieces are in place (such as a clear and succinct description that relates your organization's history and makes a case for its stature in the field), then this is an excellent way to contribute to, or even to spark, a forward-looking story.

In short, amid the rubble generated by the crisis, this next-steps focus addresses the "what's next?" phase of the news cycle.

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