leaders everyday watch the news or read the paper and see other companies
in the midst of a public relations crisis -- and they naturally wonder,
"What if that happened to our company?"
For example, take Michael Moore's political documentary film SiCKO. The
film undoubtedly means unfavorable attention for the Food and Drug
Administration and some large U.S. pharmaceutical companies.
So, what should a company do when a Michael Moore, 60 Minutes crew
or other type of "investigative journalist" shows up on its
Too often, companies and organizations make the mistake of waiting for a
public relations crisis to happen and then responding to it. No matter how
much damage control a company does, it's hard to overcome an embarrassing
clip from a movie or TV show that will be indelibly stamped in the minds
of millions of Americans. A better approach is what many of us in the PR
industry call "crisis prevention."
What does crisis prevention entail? Here's an analogy: Many companies
nowadays hire professional hackers to uncover potential security breaches
in their networks and servers. Why not do the same for public relations?
Protecting a company's image is just as vital as protecting its physical
Don't wait until Michael Moore shows up on your doorstep, catches
off-guard the first employee who answers the door or phone, and then
publicly humiliates your company on the big screen.
Instead, anticipate possible attacks and criticisms against your company.
Take an honest look in the mirror: What is your company doing that others
might find fault in? Remember, no company or organization is immune to
attack. Even charities and churches come under media scrutiny.
But it's not always easy to see one's own faults. That's why your company
should hire an outside consultant to "hack into" your company's
image and assess where potential PR problems may arise. Correct the
problems you can and, if something can't be fixed, have a good reason why
things are the way they are. Don't be afraid to admit that your company
isn't perfect and needs to improve things. The public likely will respect
Finally, train a "crisis person" or "crisis team" who
can be ready on a moment's notice to succinctly and intelligently respond
to Michael Moore's inquisition. Don't just say "No comment" and
slam the door –
the public will think you have something to hide.
Remember, investigators such as Moore ambush without warning and without
an invitation. They prey on the unsuspecting. Be ready before it happens.
Grabowski is principal of Media
Unspun, a media and
communications consulting firm. He previously worked as a reporter
for the Providence Journal, Arizona Republic and Newsday.
Mark also holds a law degree from Georgetown University.
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