When I mention that I’m in crisis PR, the response I most often hear is: “You must have heard some great stories in your time.”
The answer is yes – the problem is many of them are complete bullsh*t!
Most clients get that you can’t lie your way out of a public relations crisis, but there have been plenty who have said: “Surely you can just spin a line out of this.” And then proceed to give me some convoluted nonsense even my 11-year-old wouldn’t try it on with.
It’s all very well taking on a crisis management PR team and asking them to crush an accusation or put a different spin on it. But you don’t get the best results by spinning the story – ask Sean Spicer how trying that with the crowd at Donald Trump’s inauguration worked out for him.
What people need to realise is that honesty has to be at the core of a crisis management response. Secrets and lies are more damning than an uncomfortable truth.
Truth, after all, is the ultimate defence in the eyes of the law – and the eyes of the public.
Red face or red figures
So that means letting your PR advisors have all the unvarnished facts, warts and all. If that’s embarrassing for you, then so be it – better to have a red face than red figures on your balance sheet.
You have to trust your public relations team with all the information you have because, quite simply, there are two sides to the story.
It’s all very well to think of the short-term gain of crushing a story by being less than scrupulously honest – but the chances are you will end up being exposed to long-term reputational damage.
No, the best way forward is to tell the truth and tell it well, to be as transparent as you possibly can.
You cannot build your defence on a lie. Your crisis management PR team needs to know what the facts are. Those background details, and years of experience in media handling, allow experts to put together an argument to address or balance a story.
Being aware of all the facts also helps with strategic planning.
Set the agenda
People talk about getting ahead of the story, but you can never truly do that in a crisis situation – it will develop organically and trying to set the agenda to suit yours is virtually impossible.
However, in many cases, a crisis management expert will have an understanding of how the story is likely to move and will have a strategy in place to deal with most eventualities.
When it comes to journalists, bear in mind that everyone is just doing their job. If you respect that there are certain elements of the story that are true and stand them up for the journalist, you build the trust that helps you knock down the elements where there are shades of grey.
At Only Crisis, we also have our own integrity to consider.
If people are not honest with us, it leaves everyone vulnerable as it informs the response. And an untruthful response will be exposed, damaging the reputation of the client and the messenger.
If journalists decide they can’t have faith in our crisis management PR responses, what value do our services have to clients? The work we conduct in the background would become impossible without the reputation we have built up and the trust we have fostered.
We are not here to lie for you, but to advise you how to get an honest result that minimises the harm to your business or personal standing.
If we don’t feel someone is being entirely truthful with us, then we walk away. The relationship has to be built on mutual respect and mutual trust.
As Mark Twain wrote: “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” But remember the kicking the truth can give you when it’s wearing those shoes.
For help and advice call our crisis management experts now on 0800 612 9890.