When the big match means big problems

Business Continuity Management BCM - PR and BCM - Support - Advice

The importance of PR

In the final run in of the premier league there was a crucial crunch game, two London clubs were playing and the result would decide final placings worth millions and vitally a place in European football next season. Definitely a big story for the sports pages, but that wasn't were it ended up. 

Instead, it hit the front page of most of the tabloids and was featured on virtually all broadcast media because 10 of the players of one team fell ill with  “food poisoning " whilst staying a luxury hotel. Skulduggery was claimed, the police called and the media camped outside of the hotel in question.

Journalists confirmed that the Police had collected samples from the restaurant to pass onto the health authorities and  “investigations " were underway. I often reflect during presentations on the power of the media and how quickly events can spiral out of control driven by intense press attention and here is a perfect example. For a week the story ran each day with more detail emerging and more claims of nefarious activity it was finally identified that is was a form of seasonal stomach 'flu' and not food poisoning at all. 

Now for a full week the hotel, part of a prestigious hotel group with a well-crafted brand image of quality at the premium end of the market, was subject in intense media speculation for all the wrong sort of reasons! This can not only have been difficult to manage, but would have impacted them in a number of different ways. They will surely have a documented Crisis Management Plan or, in softer terms, a PR Communications Plan. But it is not only global companies who need to devise a plan in advance. Being in business, or even running a not-for-profit organisation, exposes everyone to the risk of a PR crisis.

Effective Business Continuity Management needs to ensure that the impact of media is included within the overall structure of the preparations made with a strong PR element included in the planning. No organisation is very far from crises and their resulting media attention. Their reputation can be washed away or seriously damaged in an instant.

A crisis is any situation that threatens the integrity or reputation of your company, usually brought on by adverse or negative media attention. These situations can be any kind of legal dispute, theft, accident, fire, flood or manmade disaster that could be attributed to your company. It can also be a situation where in the eyes of the media or general public your company did not react to one of the above situations in the appropriate manner. This definition is not all encompassing but rather is designed to give you an idea for the types of situations where you may need to follow this plan.

Unfortunately, though for most the PR dimension is omitted from the BCM plan far too often, from our research something like 80%+ of plans do not include the PR aspects. 

Crisis management is a complex subject, but here are five tips to get you started. And, start, you must. 

1. Don't wait. 

Many organisations only get their crisis plans underway once a disaster has struck. Instead, brainstorm possible scenarios or types of disasters that could happen, and start planning for them. 

In fact, I have found this to be a positive process as bringing together key executives to share ideas and examine scenarios often brings out a range of issues that they can take forward. 

2. Realise that crises take a wide range of shapes. 

As I say, this can be anything from the hotel's crisis to a legal dispute getting out of hand to customer dissatisfaction aired on the Internet. I even recall a weekend phone call from a Scout leader whose campsite had been washed away in storms with some children being injured; the media were on the telephone badgering her for the story! They will all require slightly different responses. Brainstorm and prepare for as many as you can imagine. 

3. Develop a PR communications plan.

A barrage of media attention may swamp you within minutes of the news breaking. Also, think about how you will get information out to staff, supporters & investors, and customers yes, remember to get your side of the story out to customers as soon as you can. Internal communication is as important as communication to the general public. A physical plan has to do with getting everyone out of the building in case of an earthquake. A communications plan involves identifying a spokesperson, developing press releases, setting up a media hotline, and finding a place where you can have a press conference. 

4. Be prepared to speak to the media and to your constituents. 

Even if you can't say much because your lawyer is concerned about liability, plan to say what you can as soon as you can. Be concerned, show concern, speak concern, and always tell the truth. That doesn't mean you have to tell everything all at once, but never, never lie. 

5. Provide media training for senior management. 

Do this before a disaster strikes. Make it a regular part of board and senior employee training. Media training needn't cost a lot if you have someone on your board working in public relations or someone who is a member of the media. The key is to do it regularly so that new people are always trained and others don't grow stale. 

Don't delay your crisis planning. Don't ruin your hard-won reputation by handling difficult situations badly!

If you would like to know more about how your organisation can get involved and benefit from working with the Continuity Forum, please email us HERE! or call on + 44 (0) 208 993 1599.