Last week, USA Today reported that the University of North Carolina was spending nearly $800,000 with a public relations firm as it deals with the results of an investigation of academic and athletic problems at the school.
Also last month, Texas Health Presbyterian Dallas had to undertake a major PR campaign to regain public trust after mishandling the nation’s first Ebola case.
What many people fail to realize is that public relations isn’t just about crisis management; it’s about building trust, brand and loyalty all year long so that when something bad happens you are not scurrying around putting out fires.
Public relations is about building relationships in good times so that should an unfortunate incident occur, you can readily reach out to those in the media with whom you have an existing relationship and tell your side of the story.
During a crisis, public relations requires a strong voice. You don’t necessarily want to put an unknown face in front of the media. Instead, it should be a member of the leadership team who can step forward and communicate with confidence the company’s message and to reassure the public that things are being handled in an appropriate way.
What you and your company do or say in the hours immediately following a crisis are what people will remember most. Taking what can be referred to as the “ostrich approach” and sticking your head in the sand will only serve to create more problems. In today’s fast-paced world driven by social media, what starts out as speculation can quickly turn into “reality” if you are not able to respond immediately. Sir Richard Branson, founder and chairman of the Virgin Group, is a classic example of how best to handle a bad situation. Following last week’s fatal crash of his Virgin Galactic rocket ship that killed one and seriously injured another, Branson immediately issued a statement, flew to the scene of the accident and showed empathy for those involved. Branson has a reputation for being a master at handling a crisis. He has a lot to lose if his dream to make commercial space travel a reality is dashed.
Regardless of how big your company, or your dream, being able to retain control of your message is key. You never know when a crisis will strike – and if you are lucky it won’t. Building a solid reputation ahead of time, creating relationships and trust along the way will only serve to help you and your company deal with a crisis.
Susan R. Miller is founder of Garton-Miller Media, a full-service, South Florida-based public relations firm. Susan is a former journalist with more than 30 years of experience. She has written for local, state and national publications. Her clients include attorneys, non-profit organizations and healthcare professionals.
Garton-Miller Media is a full-service, South Florida-based public relations firm. Founder Susan R. Miller has 30 years of experience as a writer, journalist and PR professional.