Death and drugs: how to manage a PR nightmare

By Nicholas Robinson contact

- Last updated on GMT

Time to think: the key to handling a crisis is to not panic
Time to think: the key to handling a crisis is to not panic
A crisis can lead very quickly to bad publicity and could easily break a business if not handled in the right way, according to two public relations bosses.

The scenario:

Here is a short example of the questions and answers from the day.

Your phone rings at 9.15 on a Monday morning. It’s a journalist from your local BBC news station who has learned from a police source hat there was a raid by the drugs squad at one of your premises, Archie’s, on Saturday night.

Q: ​The journalist asks you: “First of all, can you confirm that these incidents took place?”

A: ​Choose from the following:

  1. We will not be commenting at this time
  2. We are working closely with the police to help them with their enquiries. That is all I can tell you at this time
  3. We have launched a full internal investigation and are taking this matter very seriously indeed
  4. We can confirm that these incident took place and are working with police to help them with their enquiries

The correct answer was number two.

However, if handled in the right way, a crisis can be quickly controlled and forgotten by the public, the MA500 conference was told in Manchester this month.

How to handle a difficult situation

To demonstrate how to handle a difficult situation, Simon Mowbray and Rob Metcalfe from PR agency MediaSmart, outlined a detailed scenario involving death and drugs in a pub.

Operators in the room were asked 10 questions as part of the scenario before being told to choose how they would respond from a list of answers.

The experts’ top tips were:

  • Don’t panic: ​don’t be rushed into responding. It’s better to buy yourself some time to think and get the response right than to rush and make a mistake
  • Make a plan: ​draft statements and agree who should be the company’s spokesperson/people
  • Media coaching: ​make sure you or the spokespeople for the company have media coaching. Even if you’re an extraordinary communicator, you need to learn the basic rules of engagement, as well as the tricks journalists use
  • Social and digital: ​use your ‘owned’ channels to tell your side of the story, but use them wisely. Take any difficult conversations offline as quickly as possible
  • Review and renew: ​As the story develops, make sure your responses do, too. But remember there is no such thing as ‘fact’ until an incident has reached its natural conclusion, so never speculate or confirm conjecture
  • Never too late: ​it’s never too late to get it right, even if you’ve got it wrong previously. Many organisations can often be slow off the mark in a crisis.

Related topics: Training, MA Leaders Club, Marketing

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