Crisis Communications: Dare we take a human approach?

No business like show business…

Price Waterhouse Cooper has prestigious clients all over the world, but the Oscars was the feather in their cap. The event is nowhere near their biggest earner, but boy is it high profile. You all know the story by now; when it came time to announce who won Best Picture, there was a mix-up, and the presenters Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty were given the wrong envelope. Lala Land was announced as Best Picture instead of Moonlight.

Chaos ensued. Men in headsets appeared on the stage. The mistake was corrected within minutes, but not before inflicting unnecessary confusion and disappointment; not to mention tearing strips from PWC’s carefully manicured and pristine reputation.

The typically corporate response

The immediate response from the company was textbook. Using an approach we have covered here on Wilde Words, they issued a statement apologising and promising a full explanation. Here it is in full:

We sincerely apologize to “Moonlight,” “La La Land,” Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, and Oscar viewers for the error that was made during the award announcement for Best Picture. The presenters had mistakenly been given the wrong category envelope and when discovered, was immediately corrected. We are currently investigating how this could have happened, and deeply regret that this occurred.

We appreciate the grace with which the nominees, the Academy, ABC, and Jimmy Kimmel handled the situation.


READ: How to craft powerful key messages

 A follow up statement was issued the following Monday morning, that had most certainly been combed through by highly-paid lawyers:

PwC takes full responsibility for the series of mistakes and breaches of established protocols during last night’s Oscars. PwC partner Brian Cullinan mistakenly handed the back-up envelope for Actress in a Leading Role instead of the envelope for Best Picture to presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. Once the error occurred, protocols for correcting it were not followed through quickly enough by Mr. Cullinan or his partner.

We are deeply sorry for the disappointment suffered by the cast and crew of “La La Land” and “Moonlight.” We sincerely apologize to Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, Jimmy Kimmel, ABC, and the Academy, none of whom was at fault for last night’s errors. We wish to extend our deepest gratitude to each of them for the graciousness they displayed during such a difficult moment.

For the past 83 years, the Academy has entrusted PwC with the integrity of the awards process during the ceremony, and last night we failed the Academy. 

It’s the perfect corporate response in theory; appropriately contrite but measured, carefully worded, it assigns blame squarely on the two individuals representing PWC on the night, while subtly reinforcing that their protocols are correct and have always worked in the past. The company distanced themselves from the crisis as much as it was safe to do without being accused of shirking responsibility.

The language and tone are entirely corporate. There is no mention of a review of processes. The statement says “PWC takes full responsibility” rather than “We take full responsibility”. It’s appropriate but essentially bland. It explains what happened on Oscars night, but doesn’t explain why. It lacks a human element.

READ: 5 PR blogs to follow in 2017

A human approach to human error

Let’s imagine – for a moment – a human-led approach to the response.

Instead of issuing a statement, PWC would hold a press conference. Brian Cullinan would be there to speak for himself, and he would tell the truth about why the mistake happened. He would speak in plain English. The statement he would read might go something like this:

On Saturday night, I was trusted with one of the most important jobs in the show business. Surrounded by some of the world’s biggest stars, I couldn’t help but get caught up in the atmosphere. I was a little overwhelmed, and I took some pictures to post on social media. I took my eye off the ball and I gave Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty the wrong envelope. I’m sorry.

Who knows if this imagined statement would have gone down better, but my theory is that it just might have worked, and here’s why:

  • It has an authentic voice – it doesn’t hide behind legal-ese or corporate jargon
  • It’s true, and it  fits with that people already know i.e. that Brian Cullinan had been posting photos on Twitter
  • It’s relatable – can’t we all relate to getting a little flustered when surrounded by celebrity superstars at the Oscars?

What’s your take? Should organisations move toward a more human approach to crisis communications? I want to hear from YOU in the comments.

public-relations-katie-harringtonKatie Harrington is a Public Relations professional based in Galway, Ireland. Her book, Strategic Communications: The Science Behind the Art launched in November. Katie has worked with global brands including Emirates Airline and Allianz, as well as the Irish parliament and Qatar’s semi-government oil and gas company Nakilat. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.




Crisis Communication: Effective strategies for defusing a crisis


What is crisis management?

Crises are inevitable. From operational breakdowns to financial scandals, from servers getting hacked to rogue employees choosing to air their grievances in public, no business or organization can consider themselves immune. Crisis management plans are how companies mitigate against these threats. Investopedia defines crisis management as follows:

Crisis management is the identification of threats to an organization and its stakeholders, and the methods used by the organization to deal with these threats. Due to the unpredictability of global events, organizations must be able to cope with the potential for drastic changes to the way they conduct business. Crisis management often requires decisions to be made within a short time frame, and often after an event has already taken place. 

Here, we offer four examples of coherent strategies you can and should use in a crisis scenario, and two that you definitely should not.

Depending on the nature and scale of the crisis, several of the strategies below may be appropriate. Your crisis response team should be totally familiar with each of these approaches, and be able to assess the situation and choose the most appropriate approach on short notice. That ability will determine how your organization fares in media coverage of the incident.


Crisis Management Strategy 1: The Sincere Apology

If it is immediately clear that the crisis has broken due to human error on the part of your employees, or because of a fault in your organisation’s products or services, an apology is appropriate. The most recent high profile example of this is the Oscars, where a mistake by Price Waterhouse Cooper led to the wrong film, La La Land, being announced as winners instead of the Best Picture category, instead of the actual winners Moonlight.

PWC issued an initial statement apologising to all involved, sent their Chairman Tim Ryan out to deliver face-to-face apologies to the press, and then issued a second statement accepting full responsibility for the mistake. They issued an apology that sounded genuine and heartfelt, and  that also invoked some of the other strategies we’ll discuss below.

However, organisation’s should not issue apologies before the details of a crisis have been uncovered, as to do so may imply that they accept responsibility before the facts are available.


Crisis Management Strategy 2: The Promise to do Better (…and the follow through)

Of course, apologies are essentially meaningless unless they are backed up by action. Uber has been making headlines for all the wrong reasons over the last few weeks. First, #deleteuber trended on Twitter after the company’s  deeply ingrained culture of institutional sexism revealed in a blog post by former engineer Susan Fowler. Travis Kalanick, Uber CEO, called an all-hands meeting where he promised change and announced an investigation.

This was a good move, and should have steadied the boat for a time, except that Kalanick almost immediately undermined himself by berating an Uber driver in a video that was then leaked to journalists. A promise to do better is essential, but it must be backed up by real action. Kalanick’s credibility as an agent of change is severely in doubt, and it’s a safe bet that there will be major changes in Uber’s senior management in the near future.


READ: How to write a holding statement

Crisis Management Strategy 3: The Explanation

The old political maxim says “when you’re explaining, you’re losing”, and there is a degree of truth to that, but when something has gone wrong in your organization, explaining what happened is an essential step in re-establishing credibility. Where there is an ongoing problem, like a service outage, give your clients as much information as you feasibly can, including what the problem is, how long it’s likely to be impacting for, what you’re doing about it and where they can find updates.

Your clients, partners and investors will need to understand why the crisis happened, what person or process was to blame, and what steps the senior leadership team have taken to ensure it never happens again. Independent investigations and  internal audits are often important parts of this process.


READ: Identifying your stakeholders in a crisis

Crisis Management Strategy 4: The Reminder

Going back to the Oscars, PWC made sure that their apology referenced a subtle reminder that for more than eight decades, they had gotten it right: “For the past 83 years, the Academy has entrusted PwC with the integrity of the awards process during the ceremony, and last night we failed the Academy.” In the aftermath of a crisis scenario, it may be appropriate to remind your stakeholders that while the organization has come through a difficult time, it is still worthy of trust. This can help position the crisis as a one-off.

For established organizations that invest consistently in their relationships with stakeholders and general enjoy a good reputation, this can be quite a powerful strategy.


READ: How to craft powerful key messages

Crisis Management Strategy 5: The Denial

A controversial approach to managing communications crises, often favoured by the Trump administration, is to simply deny that a crisis has taken place. This strategy – which we don’t endorse – often involves attempting to discredit news organizations covering the crisis, distracting the media by changing the subject, refusing to answer questions asked by the media, and ad hominem attacks. Often, the goal of this strategy is to leave the public confused, so they don’t know who to believe.

READ: Choosing proactive or reactive responses in a crisis

Crisis Management Strategy 6: The Blame Game

Another strategy often used by the Trump Administration and other politicians worldwide is to play the blame game: Instead of taking ownership when things go wrong, Donald Trump has chosen to lay blame for his tumultuous first weeks in office on the media, the judiciary, President Obama, the constitution, other Republicans including John McCain, the military, and the comedians of Saturday Night Live amongst others. Rather than owning up to what seem to have been major strategic errors, including the abandonment of the United States’ One China Policy and the death of a Navy SEAL in a botched operation in Yemen, Trump has lashed out at allies.

The fall out from this remains to be seen over the next four years, but blaming those around you for avoidable mistakes often looks unprofessional and immature – this is rarely a strategy any company should use, unless they can categorically prove they are not to blame.


What crisis management strategies do you have in place? Is your organization protected by an established crisis communications protocol? If not, read this.


public-relations-katie-harringtonKatie Harrington is a Public Relations professional based in Galway, Ireland. Her book, Strategic Communications: The Science Behind the Art launched in November. Katie has worked with global brands including Emirates Airline and Allianz, as well as the Irish parliament and Qatar’s semi-government oil and gas company Nakilat. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.





Crisis Communication: Katie Rich tweets ‘joke’ about 10-year-old Barron Trump


NBC is not having a good run with their on-air personalities. You would have imagined that a strongly worded email went around to staff in the aftermath of the Billy Bush fiasco, but if it did, Katie Rich wasn’t paying attention.

The 33-year-old is a writer for the network’s long-running comedy sketch show, Saturday Night Live. Rich is in the eye of a social media storm after a hugely distasteful tweet about Barron Trump, Donald Trump’s 10-year-old son.

Critics have expressed their disgust that Rich would mock a child, and said that there is nothing funny about cyber bulling and nothing funny about America’s school shootings.


As the uproar at the writer’s unfunny joke on social media grew, Rich deleted the tweet and switched her account to private, before deleting the account altogether some time later. This has done little to quell public anger at her, at the show and at the network, particularly since as of now, Rich has not issued any kind of apology.

Many twitter users are calling for a boycott on SNL unless Rich is fired, but so far there has been silence from the network on the matter.

Conservatives have attacked the hypocrisy of the liberal left, who often use Michelle Obama’s mantra “When they go low, you go high”, while many on the left have also tweeted support for Trump’s young son, saying children should never be the target of such ‘jokes’.

Mistakes NBC made in handling this social media crisis

  • They left it too late to respondTime is of the essence in dealing with a social media crisis. NBC should be well aware of how these things can spiral after Billy Bush’s involvement with Trump’s “Grab’em by the pussy” moment. As of now, it’s been more than 24 hours since the crisis broke, and NBC have not yet issued a statement. This is not good enough. Any apology or action that comes at this point will seem empty.
  • They let SNL keep tweetingEven as hundreds of tweets were coming in criticising the show and the network, demanding that Katie Rich be fired and suggesting a boycott of the show, @nbcsnl continued tweeting about Aziz Ansari’s appearance on the show as though nothing was happening. This gives the impression that they are either ignorant of or unconcerned with the public’s fury about the issue.

  • They don’t have the right training in place For an organisation that’s home to a lot of public figures, it doesn’t seem like NBC provides adequate training to their employees, and in particular their on-air personalities, on how to behave on the job and on social media. A mandatory, company-wide sensitivity training should be on the cards at this point.

What could NBC have done differently?

Well, they could have taken a leaf out of Skittle’s book, releasing a prompt statement distancing themselves from the tweet. They should have also promised to look into what happened, and follow up as necessary, like we outline in our article on creating holding statements for the media. They should definitely have a Crisis Response Protocol in place, and they should run simulations once a quarter to make sure that they’re prepared when the real thing happens.

So, have your say below – should Katie Rich lose her job?

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What if it happened at your company?

Would you be prepared? Do you have the right protocols in place?

Hit comment and let me know what kind of Crisis Response Protocol your team has in place for a crisis.

If your company doesn’t have any kind of plan for coping with a communications crisis,  you’re at risk of damaged reputation, decreased brand equity and revenue loss. Companies pay PR agencies THOUSANDS of dollars to prepare for such events.


Our fully customizable Emergency Response Communications Protocol is an easy to follow procedure that covers all bases for dealing with a crisis, and we’re making it available here for $99.

public-relations-katie-harringtonKatie Harrington is a Public Relations professional based in Galway, Ireland. Her book, Strategic Communications: The Science Behind the Art launched in November 2016. Katie has worked with global brands including Emirates Airline and Allianz, as well as the Irish parliament and Qatar’s semi-government oil and gas company Nakilat. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.



Reputation Matters: Establishing, maintaining and protecting reputation

In 1981, Joan Jett told the world she didn’t give a damn about a bad reputation. But then, she didn’t have shareholders to answer to.

The public perception of a company, institution or governmental body is fundamental to its ability to achieve its objectives. That’s why reputation management is one of the most important functions of a PR team. The hope is that with consistent, creative and clever Public Relations, Communications teams can wield some control over the organisation’s reputation.

The relationship between a company’s brand and its reputation is not entirely straightforward however; despite any brand’s bestwilde-words-reputation effort to convince their audience of its message, the public ultimately decide a company’s reputation based on whether it lives up to its brand proposition. While brand can be defined as how your organisation wants to be seen by the public, whereas reputation is how people actually see you.

Public Relations has a vital role to play in earning, maintaining and protecting an organisation’s reputation. There are a variety of strategies teams can employ to build trust, and in the world of the whistle-blower, this must begin with ethics, authenticity and a two-way dialogue with the people you’re targeting spoken in a human voice.

There is good reason for companies to show such concern for reputation management. The Global RepTrak Pulse 2016 was the largest study of corporate reputation in the globe, involving 7,000 companies, 55,000 consumers, 40 countries and 25 industries. The study claims that reputation is an emotional bond between consumers and organisations that impacts:

  • Whether consumers will buy your product
  • If the general public would recommend your company
  • Policy makers and regulators in giving you a license to operate
  • The financial community’s willingness to invest in your organisation
  • How the media reports your point of view
  • Whether employees deliver on your strategy

wilde-words-reputation-managementRepTrak claims that company’s that deliver on this will earn the emotion, admiration, trust, and esteem. The impact of this is then seen in seven domains – purchases, verbal support, crisis proofing, recommendations, investment and employment.

RepTrak found that 84% of those surveyed would purchase from a company with an excellent reputation compared with 9% who would purchase from a company with a poor reputation. While 83% would recommend the products of a company with an excellent reputation, 8% who would recommend products from a company with a poor reputation.

For companies competing for talent, 73% would work for a company with an excellent reputation compared with 11% who would work for an organisation rated as poor, and 67% would invest in a company with a an excellent reputation compared with 7% who would invest in a company with a poor reputation.

According to RepTrak, regular reputational audits are required in order to prioritise stakeholders and map the road to success.

Global reputation leaders

In 2016, RepTrak named the following as the top ten companies with the best reputations in the world

  1. Rolex
  2. The Walt Disney Company
  3. Google
  4. BMW Group
  5. Daimler
  6. Lego
  7. Microsoft
  8. Canon
  9. Sony
  10. Apple

The link between a strong reputation and profitability is clear. There is a financial imperative to investing in Public Relations that goes beyond “spin”. People are overwhelmed on a daily basis by traditional and digital advertising, product placements and word-perfect corporate brochures, but it’s no longer enough.

What’s the solution?

Public Relations must live up to its name and become the catalyst for real relationships between organisations and the people they want to attract. Reputation management must never rely on spin; it must represent an authentic connection.

Leave a comment below with your thoughts on reputation management.



Katie Harrington is a Public Relations professional based in Dublin. Her book,
Strategic Communications: The Science Behind the Art launches today. Katie has worked with global brands including Emirates Airline and Allianz, as well as the Irish parliament and Qatar’s semi-government oil and gas company Nakilat. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.


Crisis Communication: Does your organisation have a Crisis Response Protocol?


Today, I want to share about a major crisis I managed the communications response for in Qatar last year, and how our Crisis Response Protocol helped our team to manage the incident.

I was working for a big oil and gas shipping company at the time. We had a fleet of some of the biggest ships in the world travelling from the Middle East to places as far afield as Mexico and Japan. Crises happened often enough that we had a dedicated Emergency Room, complete with its own wifi, phones, world maps and protocols.

That morning, one of our ships had collided with a much smaller ship off the coast of the Netherlands. The collision occurred at about 4am Dutch time, which was about 7am local time in Qatar. All 13 crew from the other ship had been sent flying overboard, but thankfully they were all recovered alive.

It was a complicated incident – while we owned the ship, a different company owned the gas that was being transported by the ship, and a third company employed the crew on the ship. Fortunately, we had a very clear Crisis Response Protocol that laid out everyone’s responsibilities.

As per the plan, I immediately asked one of my team to monitor Google news and social channels for mention of the incident. She also sent an email to all staff to inform them that a live incident was underway, and reminding them that any journalist enquiries should be directed to me. It’s crucial to keep your internal stakeholders informed during a crisis.

READ: Managing your stakeholders in a crisis 

Meanwhile, I quickly drafted a holding statement using a template that was prepared and saved in our Crisis Response Protocol. We ran it past the other companies involved, who approved it quickly since it was based on a pre-agreed format.

We used this when industry publications heard what happened and called for our comment, so there was no panic when the journalists got in touch.

The statement was provided to our Finance Director so that he could inform the local stock exchange (a regulatory requirement) and to our C-suite executives who were tasked with informing government officials including the Minister for the Environment.

Read: How to draft a holding statement

After a hugely dramatic day, the story blew over quite quickly, with just a few trade newspapers making enquiries. Because we had clear protocols in place, everything went relatively smoothly when it could have gone horribly wrong.

After the crisis had passed, the response team met one more time to debrief and discuss learnings for the future.

Maybe this is not the kind of incident that would ever happen at your organisation, but let me ask you this:

  • What if a former employee decided to sue you?
  • What if a senior executive was found to be embezzling money from the company?
  • What if there was a data protection breach that impacted a large number of your clients?

This isn’t scaremongering, it’s a fact that these types of incidents happen at companies large and small every day.

Would you be prepared? Do you have the right protocols in place?

Hit comment and let me know what kind of Crisis Response Protocol your team has in place for a crisis.

If your company doesn’t have any kind of plan for coping with a communications crisis,  you’re at risk of damaged reputation, decreased brand equity and revenue loss. Companies pay PR agencies THOUSANDS of dollars to prepare for such events.

Our fully customizable Emergency Response Communications Protocol is an easy to follow procedure that covers all bases for dealing with a crisis, and we’re making it available here for $99.

Crisis Communication: A masterclass in deflecting controversy by Skittles


5 reasons Skittles’ response to Trump was perfect

This week, Donald Trump Jr posted a callous image on Twitter comparing Syrian refugees to potentially poisoned Skittles. The message was clear – if you wouldn’t risk eating Skittles in case a few of them might be poisoned, you shouldn’t accept Syrian refugees in case a few of them are terrorists. The crisis management team at Skittles responded masterfully, distancing themselves from the controversy and ensuring their values were known to the public.

Like most of the propaganda issued by the Trump campaign, the tweet was one-sided, overly simplistic and bigoted. Far from the Obama campaign of eight years ago which was founded on the ideas of hope and change, Trump’s campaign seems determined to hone in on feelings of fear and anger.

Here’s the tweet that sparked the controversy, which was liked more than 28,000 times and retweeted more than 17,000 times.

For Skittles, getting dragged into one of the dirtiest, most controversial political campaigns in American history without warning undoubtedly constituted a communications crisis. Their parent company, Wrigley Americas, issued a brief statement in response to the tweet that has been widely praised for its dignified response. The response from the Corporate Affairs team will be the stuff of crisis management case studies for some time to come.

For anyone that’s keeping count, note that the response was liked more than 40,000 times and retweeted more than 27,000 times.

Here’s what Skittles got right in managing this incident.

  1. They were prompt

    Just five hours elapsed between the time Trump’s tweet was posted and the Skittles/Wrigleys response. The Golden Rule of crisis response is to get a response out within 60 minutes, to go from being dragged unexpectedly into the US Presidential campaign, to going viral, to getting a response out within five hours is not at all bad going.

  2. They were human

    The humanitarian crisis in Syria is profound. According to the UN, around 250,000 people have been killed and 13.5 million people are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance inside Syria. This week alone, 25 humanitarian workers were killed trying to deliver urgently needed aid. Exploiting this conflict for political gain is cynical, and the Trump campaign has been called out for that.

    Skittles’ message: “Refugees are people” was simple, human, dignified and true.

  3. They chose the right medium

    The old maxim ‘the medium is the message’ still applies. Instead of responding on Twitter, which might have been seen as flippant, Skittles responded to a senior reporter with a well known publication. The Skittles team also chose to reply through their parent company Wrigleys, and to use the VP of Corporate Affairs as their spokesperson. This showed that they were taking the matter seriously, and addressing it with an appropriate level of seniority.

  4. They kept it short

    The Skittles holding statement is 29 words long, and uses straightforward language. It’s not easy to say all you need to say in a paragraph that short, but they managed to hit all the right notes. Brevity is wise because one badly chosen word can be widely misinterpreted causing further problems – the shorter statement, the smaller the chance of getting it wrong. There was no corporate-speak or PR lingo. Anyone could read and understand the statement in moments.

  5. They were direct

    Skittles were honest about their concern for their own reputation. The brand did not want to be seen as exploiting the unexpected and unwanted publicity for marketing purposes. The statement’s opening words: “Skittles are candy” explained why Trump’s analogy was so wrong, but also served to remind us that this is a brand that is not about politics.

Crisis management teams will no doubt study Skittles’ swift action to distance themselves from the controversy and look for how and where it can be applied within their own industries. Meanwhile, the Trump campaign suffered another embarrassment as it turns out they stole the photo used in the original tweet… from a refugee.

Is your brand protected in case of a crisis? Have you got the right protocols in place? If not, you’re in danger of lost revenue, damaged reputation and loss of brand equity.

Our Emergency Response Crisis Protocol can help. It’s an easy to follow procedures that uses flow charts, checklists and fill-in-the-blanks templates to help you manage any kind of communications crisis or incident.

Companies pay PR agencies THOUSANDS to create these documents, but I’m making this fully customizable version available to you for just $99. It’s a worthy investment in your brand.


Crisis Communications: Proactive or Reactive response

In the face of a crisis or incident, swift action is vital. Often, it’s not the crisis itself that defines how an organisation is perceived in the aftermath, but how well the response was managed.

The response to a crisis can be managed in one of two ways, on a proactive or reactive basis. One mistake organisations often make is leaving it until the day a crisis breaks to make this decision, when the wiser choice is to have a protocol in place well in advance.

In this post, we’ll discuss the circumstances in which either approach should be used. By the way, whether you agree or disagree – I’d love to hear from you – leave a comment once you’ve read the post and let me know if you found it useful.

But first, what is a crisis? For the purpose of this post, a crisis is defined as follows:

“…an unpredictable event that threatens important expectancies of stakeholders and can seriously impact an organisation’s performance and generate negative outcomes”

Should the communications response be proactive or reactive?

When a crisis breaks, you should start working on a statement for the press straight away. (Click here to read our post on preparing a holding statement) The statement should briefly give details that are confirmed and next steps; you can see some examples and templates here. Once your statement is prepared, a decision should be made on whether it should be issued on a proactive or reactive basis.

A proactive release means that you make the statement public immediately; this could be at a press conference if the situation calls for one, or by posting the statement to your website and your social channels for the public to see. It may also mean proactively contacting journalists your organisation has a good relationship with and giving them the statement to get ahead of the story.

A reactive statement means you get your statement ready but hold off on publishing it anywhere unless you receive specific enquiries on the crisis or incident. A reactive response can be used if it is likely that the story won’t reach the media. In these circumstances, releasing a statement too soon can do more harm than good.  A reactive statement is the right choice when you know that there is a chance a negative story might break, but it has not yet happened.

A proactive statement is likely to be required if:

  • The incident has already attracted traditional or social media interest
  • There is a legal requirement to issue a statement to any Stock Exchange
  • People have been injured or their safety/well-being is at risk
  • The environment has been affected or there is a high-profile risk to the environment
  • The incident has already attracted regional or international NGO interest

If the situation warrants a proactive response, the crisis response team will nominate a spokesperson to release the agreed statement to relevant traditional and social media (including local) as well as on the corporate website (or a specific website set up to manage the incident) and any other relevant owned channels.

Don’t forget to consider stakeholders other than the media who may be impacted. Read more on that here.

Make sure to start monitoring online news services and social media for mention of your crisis, and when the incident starts to wind down, spend some time on learnings that can be applied next time.

Have you managed crises for your organisation? Have you got a crisis plan in place that outlines proactive and reactive protocols? Don’t forget to leave a comment!

To share these posts easily with your LinkedIn connections, follow our page HERE. And if you’ve got colleagues who might be interested in reading this – share the link (These posts take a while to put together, and we really appreciate the support!)

We post curated content from some of the world’s top PR professionals, as well as our own articles, over here on Twitter. Follow us there for trends and best practices in PR.

Broadcast media training: Nailing the interview


Broadcast media training for Executives

Taking part in a television interview is really exciting. A successful TV interview is great for your organisation’s public relations. But what are the things you need to watch out for, and how should you prepare in advance? It’s a very good idea to do some broadcast media training before you get in front of a camera.

I’ve put some top tips for television success together below. If you’ve got any questions or thoughts – let me know below in the comments.

Figure out what the journalist wants

Before the interview, ask yourself why the journalist has chosen to interview you on this topic – what is their angle? What tone does the show generally take? Who watches it? Typically, an interviewee must provide one of the following:

  • Something different: A new or unique take on a current affairs topic
  • Authority: Are you an expert on this topic?
  • Controversy: Agreement rarely makes the news
  • Human interest: Were you directly impacted by the story being reported?
  • A scapegoat: Are you or your company at fault in this story?
  • Shock: Do you have information no one else has made public that would cause shock?

Tip! Journalists like comparisons – bigger, better, worse, unique, unusual, unexpected; these words set clear positions out and put them in context.


Once you’re clear on what your role is, identify key messages you want to get across about yourself or your organisation. Repeat and rehearse them. Role-play likely questions with a colleague and get plenty of practice in answering them. It’s always useful to have some impressive numbers to hand – make sure you have some interesting statistics or impressive figures to draw on during the interview.

Control the interview

Set your stall out from the beginning: “There are three points I want to make here.”

Don’t let the journalist railroad you – they may ask questions you’re not comfortable answering, and a skilled interviewer may ask the same question a number of times in different ways. Rehearse using ‘bridges’ to respond to a question in a way you feel comfortable with.

Here are some examples:

  • “The important thing to remember here is that…”
  • “Those are your words, not mine – but what I can say is…”
  • “It is worth pointing out that…” 

Tip! Being unflustered speaks volumes – make sure your tone of voice is measured, and that you are speaking at an appropriate volume and speed. Stay controlled and professional.

Getting your point across

Remember that you’re the expert. Stick to the facts, and don’t allow yourself to be drawn into speculation – this could be held against you at a later date. Show that you understand the context of the story, and how your position impacts others who are involved. Don’t let inaccuracies go, but don’t repeat them either. Once again, bridges can be useful here, for example:

  • “That is not my understanding of the situation, but what I can tell you is this…”

Tip! If possible, have a chat with the interviewer off-air before the interview starts to get a clear idea of what he or she is looking for.

If it’s your first television interview, watch this video:

Remember, unless you’re a politician of business leader at the centre of a scandal, most journalists are not there to trip you up. Their goal is to produce high-quality content that is interesting for their viewers. If you can help to provide that, you’re sure to be invited back again in the future.

What broadcast media training tools have you tried and loved? Did you find this post helpful? Leave us a comment with any questions or thoughts and we’ll get back to you.

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We post curated content from some of the world’s top PR professionals, as well as our own articles, over here on Twitter. Follow us there for trends and best practices in PR.

Crisis Communications: How to identify your stakeholders


How to identify your stakeholders in a crisis

A crisis breaks. The media has gotten hold of it, or will soon. You know you need to get a holding statement out to journalists as soon as possible, and consider whether to go out to the media proactively. In the rush to put something together, it’s vital to identify your stakeholders outside of the the public and the media. These will vary depending on what kind of industry you’re in, but could include any or all of the following.

If you’re in the process of releasing a statement to the media during a crisis, you should also consider how you’re going to communicate what’s happening to these audiences.


Family or next-of-kin

If the crisis you’re handling involves an emergency situation where lives or at risk, or people have already been killed or injured (e.g. factory fire, terrorist attack, gas leak), you need to set up an emergency call centre straight away. Get dedicated phone lines open so that people whose family or friends are missing can get in touch immediately for an update. These phone lines should be manned by members of the team who have gone through specific training in Employee Assistance or crisis management.

Your employees

Your employees deserve to know what’s going on, and they should not find out from the media. They are your brand ambassadors, whether you think so or not. If something major is happening within your organisation, people will ask them questions, and you should give them information on what they should and shouldn’t say.  Journalists may start ringing from desk to desk hunting for a story, and if you have not taken the time to communicate with them, your employees might inadvertently give a comment that can portray your company in a bad light.

Ideally, get all your employees in a room and tell them face-to-face what’s going on. In larger companies, you might just gather the managers and ask them to cascade the news to their teams. A mass email is not ideal, but in a crisis where speed is imperative, it’s a viable option.

Your investors

One way to really piss off an investor in your company is to let them find out there’s a crisis situation going on from the six o’clock news. Major investors get a phone call straight away from someone suitably senior (This does not need to be a member of the crisis communications team, but can be the CFO or Investor Relations manager). Smaller but still significant investors can get phone calls from other members of the team. Minor investors get an email with your holding statement, promising to update them with more details as soon as possible.

Government bodies and politicians

In case of a crisis that has the potential to impact the environment, result in major job losses, cause political or social unrest, impact how your city or country is viewed by investors or otherwise impact the economy, it may be appropriate to inform particular government bodies and local or national politicians. A face-to-face meeting is the best way to approach this.

Your clients or customers

Instead of relying on journalists to accurately portray your message, talk to your clients or customers directly. Much like in the investors section above, it’s important to prioritise. If you have Account Managers or Sales Managers that already have a relationship built up with your client, let them deliver the message.

If you have thousands of customers and it’s impossible to speak to them individually, send an email that speaks openly about what’s happening. Write it in a human voice rather than a corporate tone, and let them know about the actions you’re taking to mitigate the crisis. Give them contact details for any follow-up questions. This is a medium you own, and it’s one of few opportunities you have to communicate your message where it won’t be distilled through the media.

Influencers and bloggers

Although not traditionally part of a crisis communications plan, in the bid to identify your stakeholders, it’s worth keeping a list of online personalities who are influential in your industry, particularly if you’re working with a consumer brand. Communicating with the blogosphere early and often can help to shape the conversation. How the conversation around a crisis develops in the first hours and days can define how your brand fares when the headlines have died down, so don’t overlook this increasingly important group.

So, those are our thoughts on how to identify your stakeholders and engage with them. Does your organisation have a plan in place for dealing with crises? If not, we can help. Contact us to find out how we can map out the actions your organisation should take before a crisis breaks, while it’s going on and in the aftermath.

Do you agree with what we’ve covered? What did we miss? Leave a comment.

We post curated content from some of the world’s top PR professionals, as well as our own articles, over here on Twitter. Follow us there for trends and best practices in PR.

Crisis Communications: Preparing your holding statement


Strategic Communications: The Science Behind the Art is a practical guide to creating integrated communications campaigns. It’s all about achieving optimum PR outcomes using the PESO model. Check it out.

Balancing the need for credibility and speed in a crisis

When a crisis breaks at your organisation, you have a maximum of 60 minutes to get a statement out to the media before you start losing credibility. That’s not a lot of time to get up to speed with the details of what’s happened, write a statement, and get it approved by the necessary stakeholders. A holding statement is a brief account of what the company knows and what actions it is taking in the face of the crisis at hand.

The only way to ensure your Public Relations team can act with both speed and credibility is to prepare a holding statement in advance, with blanks to fill in the details of the incident. No matter what type of crisis you’re facing, from a financial scandal to a high profile law suit, a natural disaster or industrial action, journalists will always want to know the same things: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? What next?


Knowing this, it’s possible to create a template that will work in almost all circumstances.

Your statement should include:

  • A factual headline
  • The date and time
  • The location of the incident
  • Basic details that have been confirmed
  • Actions your organisation is taking that you are willing to make public
  • An expression of compassion or empathy (if appropriate)
  • Contact details OR details on further updates

Your statement should not include:

  • Details that are unconfirmed or uncertain
  • Any kind of speculation
  • A response to unsubstantiated rumours
  • The apportioning of blame
  • Names of victims in case of death

READ: How to identify the stakeholders you must engage in a crisis (outside of the media)

Your template should look something like this



Company X responds to ____________


Time: HH:MM

Company X can confirm that at __:__ (insert time) today at __________ (insert location) ____________________________ (details e.g. A fire broke out at our manufacturing premises/ Charges were filed against our CEO/ a bomb threat was called into our headquarters in Dublin).

__________________________________________ (what the company is doing about it e.g. An investigation is taking place (or will take place) into the cause of the fire/ The CEO has been suspended without pay pending the outcome of the investigation/ Our headquarters have been evacuated and all staff have been sent home pending a search of the building by the bomb squad.)

Company X would like to ___________________________(strenuously deny the allegations/ express our sincerest condolences to the victims) and assure the public that we are (taking this matter very seriously/ moving quickly to establish the details).

We have __________________ (established a task force/mobilised a response team/set up a call centre) and will provide further updates as soon as the information we receive can be verified.

Our next statement will be issued at __:__(four hours from now).


So, here’s how that might look in practice. This is just an example and any resemblance to real life incidents is purely coincidental. In this example, a senior executive at a major financial firm is responding to the revelation that the personal details of thousands of their members have been compromised.


Harrington & Harrington statement on data protection breach

Date: 31/05/2016

Time: 09:05

Harrington & Harrington regrets to confirm that in the early hours of this morning, a data protection breach took place when one of our servers was attacked. An internal investigation has been launched, and we are cooperating fully with law enforcement agencies.

At this point it is too early to say exactly what information has been compromised, and a task force has been put in place to address this. We understand that this is causing huge concern for our customers, and a helpline has been activated for to answer customers’ questions at the number below. As a precautionary measure, we are advising all customers who use our online portal to change their passwords.

Our next statement will be issued our website at 13:00, or as soon as the information we receive can be verified.

Helpline: 0800 456 789

What makes this the right message?

The statement above ticks all the boxes – it tells the media and customers what the company knows at this point and what it doesn’t know, what actions they are taking and how customers can get in touch if they need to. It shows that they understand the concern their customers must be feeling, and what precautionary measures they can take.

Later, when the company knows more – like which customers have been effected and what information has been compromised, they can create a comprehensive contingency plan.

For now – in those first 60 minutes – the most important thing is to issue a message that demonstrates the three Cs:

  • Control
  • Credibility
  • Compassion

Our next Crisis Communications post will outline more steps you can take in ‘peace time’ (when there is no crisis) to prepare for when a crisis does break. For now, if you work in Communications or PR, try this challenge:

Write out the three most likely crisis scenarios likely to break out at your organisation. What would a holding statement look like for those scenarios?

Was this post useful? Does your company have a prepared holding statement ready for if when a crisis breaks?

If your company doesn’t have any kind of plan for coping with a communications crisis,  you’re at risk of damaged reputation, decreased brand equity and revenue loss. Companies pay PR agencies THOUSANDS of dollars to prepare for such events.

Our fully customizable Emergency Response Communications Protocol is an easy to follow procedure that covers all bases for dealing with a crisis, and we’re making it available here for $99.

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