Managing PR and communications during a crisis

In today’s global media environment, crises require a swift and sure-footed response, taking account of the subject matter and the stakeholders involved.

In this two-part series, Linklaters corporate partner Sarah Wiggins and Brunswick Director Dex Torricke-Barton discuss how GCs and other senior legal counsel can work with communications teams and PR advisors to help their organisations communicate with key stakeholders and manage their media response during a crisis.

Role of the media in a crisis part 1

Role of the media in a crisis part 2

What are the initial things to consider from a PR perspective?

  1. Facts and control - do you have full facts or not?
  2. Will it be local/regional or global or is it too early to tell?
  3. Could this be a reputational issue?
  4. Does the press know? Should we be proactive or reactive?
  5. Can you wait in your response or must you engage now?

What is the best approach a GC can take when involved in a crisis?

Although counter-intuitive for most lawyers, there needs to be a level of acceptance that there will inevitably be uncertainty and risk. It’s important that both the lawyers and the communication teams, along with internal and external stakeholders, understand that they all are facing the same challenges. There also needs to be clarity about what the facts are – credibility can make or break the initial stages of a crisis response.  
 

How should companies and GCs consider social media in a crisis?

Social media is short, immediate and incites an emotional response, which can prove especially challenging for companies when dealing with a crisis. Long explanations and technical jargon won’t work. Alternate forms of communication should be considered, such as infographics or a series of tweets. What is important is that there is an emotional quality to the message. 

How do you incorporate your corporate values into a crisis?

Bad communication can be misconstrued as coming from someone in a position of authority and can appear formulaic and rigid. Good communication incorporates empathy as a key component which can resonate with many people’s core human values. What would your mother, friends, and family want to hear from a company in a moment of crisis? Can the message focus less on what you feel obligated to say and more of what you feel should be said?

How should companies respond to fake news?

A lot of companies want to combat disinformation with information, but that’s not enough on its own. A company needs to package information with human responses and try to anticipate how will it resonate at an emotional level. Part of the strategy of a crisis should be to start a conversation with the public with the aim to re-establish trust if it has been broken.

Find out more about the role of fake news on our webpage. 

 

What are the top three tips for GCs when dealing with a crisis?

1. Is it a crisis versus bad news? A crisis should be defined as something serious enough to challenge how your business operates.

2. Gathering the right information needed to respond is at the heart of your ability to manage a crisis

3. Recognising that communicators and lawyers are partners in getting the message out and defending the business

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