By Ronn Torossian, President and CEO, 5WPR
When it comes to crisis management and cleaning up a bad rep, few should possess greater experience than politicians. Yet, public servants can neglect good PR practices and take the easy route. This creates big scandals from when recovery becomes almost impossible inevitably leading to calls for resignation.
Where Mayor Emanuel Went Wrong
Rahm Emanuel recently fell into this trap following the fatal shooting of a 55-year old woman, and a 19-year old man, who allegedly suffered from mental problems. In the wake of a big Black Lives Mattercampaign continuing to take root and push controversy around America, bringing bad publicity on the Mayor, and the Chicago police force.
This added to the Chicago PD making the news for shady policing. The police department stands at the center of many controversial and lethal shootings in the past few years. Just last month a video hit the media of a police officer shooting a black teenager a whopping 16 times.
People believe Mayor Emanuel had plenty of time to act. So when he finally called for investigations into the faulty training of the Crisis Intervention Team, it solved nothing. Now critics scream for his resignation from office – a reality that may prove true in the near future, as pressure rises.
The Alternative Approach
While some PR experts encourage companies to wait until the controversy dies to act, a proactive or immediate response does far more good. Just as clients want to know right away the PR experts they hire have their backs in a crisis, the public wants reassurance companies, and public figures are aware of the issue and are working on a resolution.
To wait until things get out of control before reacting tells people that companies and public figures only care when their careers are on the line. Undermining the public’s trust, and allowing the problem to fester and spread within the population.
In fact, proactive PR isn’t unheard of in law enforcement. Earlier this year, the Greenwich Police Department took maintained a positive image while other departments suffered bad press and controversy – by getting on the problem immediately. The department’s approach speaks volumes about how best to handle a crisis, even before an organization’s personal interests get dragged into the crossfire.
One notable move the Greenwich PD made involved creating good reasons to make the news as often as possible. As a result, news regarding the PD centered around the efforts to catch criminals, new developments,efforts to improve training of officers, awards, and protection for their four-legged members. This helped the PD to promote good press.
In addition to this, the police department hosted and participated in a public relations ceremony. Preparing officers to handle the public and media in case of crisis and educating them on how to build a good image in the community.
Both the Chicago PD and Mayor Emanuel should have taken similar approaches towards training officers, and building a better image. In addition, a better approach would have included the following critical steps.
- Create a Plan – A plan prevents fumbling around just in case companies or public figures need to act immediately. It also provides peace of mind when bad things happen.
- Decide who does the Talking – The spokesperson needs to remain neutral while receiving criticism from a number of very angry people who want someone to blame for hurt and injustice. Choose wisely.
- Show Transparency – If the public suspects the organization or public figure has something to hide, then no amount of PR magic can undo this until the secret is revealed. So, be open and honest so the healing process can begin.
While not always possible, be the bearer of bad news. This gives the public the feeling the company or public figure accepts its involvement and wants to fix it.
- Keep all parties Up-to-date – This ensures everyone is on the same page and does not share conflicting messages with the media. Also, keep the public updated to show measures are in place to get things solved as quickly as possible.
- Employ the Power of Social Media – Social media isn’t always the best place to turn when crisis hits, but the public expects a response via this avenue. It also presents a good opportunity to combat the bad press. Do so, not by arguing with journalists and consumers, but by posting updates and assuring the public of efforts to fix the issue.
Follow these simple rules to increase the likelihood of weathering the worst storms of a PR crisis.