As a publicist who has consulted with clients in the wake
of Hurricane Katrina, 9/11, SuperStorm Sandy and the recent Paris Terrorist
Attacks, it is important to remember not to be self-serving. If you
honestly have a story that is pertinent to the news cycle, that is certainly
one thing, but creating fluff news for the sake of publicizing your product or
service during a crisis can only result in negative feedback from those within
your industry and the public in general. Here are 5 do’s and don’ts when it
comes to PR during a crisis.
to do in the time of crisis:
1. Speak with your clients about their crisis communications
Internal communication is key during
a crisis; make sure that all employees have appropriate contact information to
stay in touch with team members and supervisors and understand and are aware of
the company policy when dealing with an emergency/crisis situation. Following
9/11, clients based in NYC held off on making any corporate announcements. The
employees and the media were focused on the major news coming out of New York,
Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. Corporations and businesses should also be available for
employees in need; compassion during a crisis goes a long way. If there must be communication with
the media, there should be one specific company spokesperson so that any
message is delivered in a clear and concise manner.
Provide news tips to the media when appropriate in order
to help the public
Previously, an author who wrote a
book about how to prepare for a weather-related emergency was able to provide
tips prior to Hurricane Katrina and was a source following the hurricane. A
community bank was able to provide news on how clients were able to effectively
bank online in the face of SuperStorm Sandy. Entrepreneurial businesses in New
Jersey had their employees work remotely, when possible, following SuperStorm
Sandy and a university professor with an expertise in Haiti provided insight following
the Hurricane in Haiti. During times of crisis, it is important to share tips
in order to shed insight on situations and keep the public informed.
Offer assistance in your community to those effected by
In the past, national and local
businesses purchased water and supplies and donated funds to help those
affected by Hurricane Katrina, SuperStorm Sandy, Hurricanes in Oklahoma,
etc. When these businesses are collecting donations to benefit a non-profit,
it is appropriate to issue appropriate news information on where donations can
be dropped off or sent. Do not, however, turn the good deed into a
self-serving event with business signage, matching T shirts, etc. Be sure to continue
collections of goods long past the news cycle of the crisis.
Show compassion — if employees need personal time to
deal with the tragedy/crisis, bring in counselors or allow them the time
necessary to handle personal needs
During SuperStorm Sandy, those whose
homes were damaged were able to focus on their families/homes and did not work
during those times, offices collected items to help those displaced by
SuperStorm Sandy and a number of clients gave employees time off following 9/11
to be with their families.
If your company is able, donate funds, materials or time
to help those in need
Sharing is caring! If your company is able, every little bit
helps those in times of crisis!
NOT to do in time of crisis:
Do not immediately become an expert
If you are an expert in the topic,
that is one thing. However, if you cannot answer questions off of the top of
your head based on knowledge and history, do not put yourself out in front of
the media. This will only garner negative press.
Do not tie-in a product to secure press in the wake of a
A nail polish company tried to tie in
the colors of the French flag in the wake of the Paris Terrorist Attacks and
were not donating any funds to any charity to help those in need in
Paris. Needless, to say, they were blasted in the press.
Do not immediately turn to social media to create a social
media campaign surrounding the crisis
Stay in communication with your
social media team. Do not allow one person to make comments based on any
event of local, national or world crisis. Carefully read and plan all
posts with caution. Do not continue to post funny, fluffy information on
your social media pages when parts of the world are experiencing tragedy or are
in mourning. It is important to be sensitive.
Do not attempt to create instant news
Often, rushing to do something
results in looking unprepared and is usually not well thought out. Again, do
not put yourself or your company into the news if you or it does not truly have
a reason to be there!
Do not create a charitable giving program for the purpose
of securing press coverage
If you want to help a charity, help
year ‘round. The press is on to those companies who are only trying to
give back to secure positive news coverage.
If you, as a large or small business, respond poorly to a
world crisis in the press, you will receive negative feedback. If you think
that speaking out about your opinion without any connection to the crisis is a
good idea, you may want to rethink that approach. Rather, stop,
look and listen! This could mean the difference between positive or negative
feedback from those within your industry and the public in general.