In a public relations crisis, it is of the utmost importance to establish  the facts of the situation to the media before they establish their own version of the facts to the public. Often news media will pick up on a story within a few hours, so any delay in getting your side of events into the public sphere can be potentially disastrous. One option for quickly disseminating information to the public is a press conference. “Rather than setting up interviews with individual reporters, sending out press releases, and contacting editors and producers, you can speak to a roomful of journalists at once.” says Al Rothstein President of Al Rothstein Media Services Inc..  The most important factor to remember when planning and executing a press conference is to remain in control. It’s also crucial to remember that the media has an agenda of their own and very little concern for yours.  Seasoned journalists have derailed the best laid plans of countless PR advisers and spokespersons over the years so be sure not to add your name to the list. The second most important factor is arguably being honest and transparent. Being caught lying or trying to cover up a mistake or scandal can actually be more damaging than the original mistake. Sometimes the facts in the case are so damning and evident there is simply no reasonable way to present them in a less negative light, in these cases the press conference is the first outlet for a public apology. This apology should briefly cover the mistake itself, take responsibility, and explain how you plan to resolve the situation. When making the apology it is vitally important to not make excuses or to try to scapegoat your subordinates, the public is often more discerning than they are given credit for. Perhaps Jonathan Bailey a blogger with bloggingpro.com said it best “Nobody likes making mistakes and no one likes admitting them and dealing with them. But the fact is we all do and that is why people are inclined to forgive errors if they are handled correctly.” The press conference can be the first step in handling a public mistake correctly. Some other tips for a successful event are:

  • Stand in front of your audience using a podium when possible, if you must sit consider using a raised dais. It’s important to be elevated over your audience to give the proper perception of authority.
  • Time your event well. You obviously want to react quickly but a conflicting event or unexpected breaking news story could obliterate press turnout and seriously hamper your message.
  • Control your tone and facial actions. Being scrutinized by reporters can be a harrowing and frustrating experience but it is very important to appear sincere and contrite. One angry response or inappropriate smile could be enough to cement public opinion in the negative column.
  • Depending on the severity of the mistake you might consider skipping the question portion of the event. This will probably not go over well with the press, but will limit the potential for spin.




3 thoughts on “Damage control part 1: The Clock is Running

  1. I really like the content in this blog. Being a student with no experience in the real world of PR, I am terrified of making a mistake. Having basic knowledge of worst case scenarios is extremely beneficial.

  2. Great post Susan! I’ve recently taken a crisis PR class, so the topic is very much fresh in my mind. You have a great handle on the topic yourself.

    The professor had an awesome mantra that I thought encompassed the true goal of crisis PR (perhaps you’ve heard it?): “Tell the truth, tell it all, and tell it fast.”

  3. The tips you gave on controlling a press conference were great. I especially like the one about controlling facial expressions and tone. I think it can be so easy to get wrapped up in your message that you forget that your appearances are being assessed as well.

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