Over the last 20 years, we’ve learned six great lessons about crisis communications:
The business model for most public relations firms is similar to that of law, accounting and architecture firms. The senior people bring the work in and push it down to less-experienced (and lower-paid) junior people – which is not the model you want when you’re facing a make-or-break crisis.
Certainly, there are exceptions to this. The largest PR firms in the country have dedicated crisis comm units dealing with a steady stream of crisis situations, continually honing their expertise.
But for most PR firms, real crisis work is usually a very small percentage of their total billable hours. That means there’s little opportunity for the team to build the expertise crisis situations require.
So, if every PR firm claims to offer crisis communications, how do you make sure the firm you’re calling isn’t overstating its abilities?
1. Can the PR firm share a list of clients for whom it has provided crisis communications or issues management services?
2. Can you get a list of case studies that describe, in some detail, what the firm did for clients facing a similar situation to yours?
3. Ask for the firm’s experience with crisis situations involving social media. Today, reputations built over years can be shattered in minutes on Facebook or Twitter.
4. Ask specifically who you’ll be working with on a day-to-day basis, their experience and examples of similar situations they’ve worked on.
5. Ask if the firm writes crisis communication plans and what goes into those plans. Even if you don’t need a plan right now – or don’t have time to build one – the answer to this question will let you know how deeply the firm is immersed in crisis communications.
6. Ask what kind of training the firm provides, who provides that training and the depth and breadth of the trainers’ experience.
7. And, perhaps, the most important question: What percentage of the firm’s overall work is really “crisis” work? If the answer is 10%, 20% – even 50% – think about whether you want communications about your crisis in the hands of a firm that does something else half the time or more.
When you’re choosing a firm to be your crisis communications partner, make certain to choose one that can walk the talk – a firm that’s earned its reputation for knowing its way around a specialty very few communication firms have mastered.
Finally, you can’t use communications to “spin” your way out of a crisis. That’s Hollywood. In the real world, you’ll get called on it and your crisis will get worse.
Our best advice: don’t hire a firm that tries to spin its own story.
© 2022 Hennes Communications. All rights reserved
ABOUT THIS AUTHOR
Bruce M. Hennes is CEO of Hennes Communications, one of the few firms in North America focused exclusively on crisis management and crisis communications. Hennes Communications serves government agencies, corporations, manufacturers, education and healthcare institutions — as well as law firms and their clients — that are “on trial” in the Court of Public Opinion.