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Crisis Prevention Through Foresight
What to do when Michael Moore shows up at your door.
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 by Mark Grabowski
Media Unspun

Mark GrabowskiBusiness 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 doorstep unannounced?

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 plant.

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 your candor.

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. 

Mark 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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