Check and Balance in Every Situation

Businessman surrounded by crumpled paperI had a conversation last week with some really bright folks who run a social media agency in New York that works with several Fortune 500 brands. We got to discussing crisis communications within a real-time setting, and how they could effectively use social media to almost instantly respond to a crisis and mitigate its effects.

Throughout the conversation, we kept coming back to the point that in order to properly handle any type of crisis in real time, no matter what the brand or situation, you need a proper plan in place well before the crisis even hits. Because no matter what type of media you are using to monitor and respond, you always need a plan in place that details exactly how, who and why you will respond and the type of response you will give to different audiences to ensure their concerns are addressed appropriately.

What this discussion helped to solidify was my belief that effective strategic public relations is a lot like America’s government system: our counsel should consist of a series of checks and balances for nearly every situation to ensure no one strategy, nor tactic nor voice overpowers the others, particularly in a high-intensity and sensitive crisis situation.

I have said it many times before, but it bears repeating: in my professional opinion, counsel is the No. 1 strategic value PR professionals provide clients and their organizations. We are the check and balance between real-time reactions and emotions that come with every business decision, and the reality of knowing each of our client’s/organization’s audiences like the back of our hands, and understanding what messages and reactionary steps will truly resonate with them.

In other words, a good PR professional may tell a client it’s not necessary to respond to that blog comment bashing their product because the commenter has added little to no constructive value to the conversation, or he or she is merely baiting a company into a situation they really don’t want to nor can afford to get into.

Check and balance.

We’re that necessary (and quite valuable) middleman between the front lines of a company and the back-end world of legal, which will often advise to do nothing and say nothing until everything has been discussed ad nauseam. We know a client’s customers, advertisers, business partners and investors won’t stand for that slow of a response, but we also understand the market can be quite fickle, and too reactionary of a response can be just as damaging to a brand or organization as too slow a response. We’re there to ensure both sides of the coin are thoroughly though out before a potentially negative situation occurs, so that when it does, and the client is calling (Barking? Screaming? Praying?) for a real-time reaction, we have a strategy already in place—that has already been practiced and understood by key folks within the organization—to put responses into action.

Check and balance.

What are some of the steps you take to keep your client’s or bosses’ reactions in check when the pressure is on?

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  • It's ironic that you would write this just after James J Donnelly published his Go Team blog on how much more important a properly trained crisis team is, rather than a crisis plan. http://www.jamesjdonnelly.com/2010/05/go-team/#

    That's not to say plans aren't important, but training the team in advance is so much more effective. At its most basic level, if legal are trained in crisis response, they won't be advising to do nothing.

    You also note the plan should outline “exactly how, who and why you will respond”, which would be quite a plan. We need to move a little beyond the notion of control implicit in this statement, especially with the development of social media.

    It is going to be incredibly hard for all of your people in an organisation to ignore all of the messages they receive on FB, twitter et al. And should you now be trying to control the response or trying to participate in the conversation?

    Cheers, geoff

  • kylesharick

    Social media is a great way to gain the first mover advantage in a crisis situation.

  • keithtrivitt

    Geoff – Thanks for chiming in and for making some really strong points. I certainly agree with you that prior planning and training of a staff prior to any situations is absolutely imperative. And really, that's the main point I was going after with this post: PR professionals add great value to their clients precisely because they think through EVERYTHING – every little step and situation – or at least they should. That's all part of the check and balance aspect, in that we're there to ensure emotional reactions or responses to situations are not put in place, but instead, a rational and well-thought out plan is put in place prior to any situation, and then that plan is put into action once a situation occurs.

    And to address your point about fast-rising situations, I certainly agree you can't plan for everything and it's a bit too controlling to try to oversee everything, but having at least a framework of a strategic plan in place will enable companies to wade through the waters of nearly any type of situation – whether those situations are extremely positive or the exact opposite.

  • keithtrivitt

    Kyle – Couldn't agree with you more, and the use of social media, particularly with handling real-time crisis communications, is something I have been thinking about a lot lately. And your comment has it on my mind that much more now! Thanks.

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