I often hear from friends and family, generally in a sly and conspiratorial tone so as to indicate that it’s OK to share the straight dope: “So, have you ever dealt with something really bad? What do you do?…”
It’s a fair question, especially when so much of pop culture’s impression of PR is currently represented by Olivia Pope. The reality is: bad stuff happens. Sometimes it is indeed as cataclysmic as something you’d see on Scandal or CSI. But more often, the incident is a normal occurrence that has wide-reaching or unexpected impact.
For instance, to most casual computer users, last year’s Windows XP sunset was little more than a blip on their radar. But for IT companies with numerous clients still running the soon-to-be-obsolete operating system, it was a big deal.
Another great example is real estate development. While the redevelopment of a long-unused and falling-into-disrepair property may sound like all upside, community members often have a suspicious view of developers. Here in Portland, we’ve seen two recent, high-profile examples of community backlash against much-needed development in the city.
In general, we advise our clients to follow a B.R.A.C.E. protocol (our own acronym) to respond to crises, incidents and catastrophes. In our work, we’ve used this framework to help clients respond to the seemingly mundane (technology changes), the panicked (layoffs, security breach, mergers and acquisitions), and the tragic (deaths, inappropriate or unethical conduct).
Preparing a playbook ahead of time can be a game-changer. However, the very nature of crisis response often implies a lack of forewarning. In cases where preparation is already foregone, we advise clients to B.R.A.C.E.:
Be the first to tell your story. Know the good, the bad, and the ugly. Chances are someone else will know all the details, so you better make sure you know the story as well as or better than they do.
Research (and document) the facts. Recognizing what you do and don’t know is crucial to being able to answer the W’s – Who, What, Where, When, Why (and How). Write it all down. You’re going to be responding on a shorter timetable with lots of moving parts. Make sure you not only know the facts, but that you can refer back to them.
Assess your audiences. Who needs to know? Who will be affected and how? Who can help? Make sure you’ve nailed down communications for every single audience; particularly internal audiences, like employees and vendors, who are easy to overlook and may actually be your most important assets.
Communicate courageously and continuously. Once you know the facts and who you’re talking to, go back to those W’s:
- What happened?
- When did you know about it?
- What are you doing about it?
- Where can you get more information?
- How are you going to prevent it in the future?
Evaluate. Be present and monitor the feedback. We say that bad things can happen. Bad things will happen. It’s a fact of life and business. Preparation is always ideal, but sometimes you don’t have that luxury. When things go wrong, having a framework to guide your response can make all the difference.
And of course, you can always call us.
— by Michael Geneseo, Broadreach Account Executive