Outlier: A person, situation, or thing that is different from others (Gladwell, M). In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell tells us that with the perfect combination of time and opportunity people can be successful. The magic number is 10,000 hours. If someone can put in 10,000 hours worth of practice at a given task, then he can become a master. Bill Gates and the Beatles are both outliers; they put in 10,000 hours, and they are considered masters in their field. Better than the rest and known for their success. In a time of crisis PR professionals don’t have 10,000 hours to work with, they have mere minutes.
The Golden Hour
PR Professionals have a mere sixty minutes to handle a crisis. This one hour can make or break a company if handled incorrectly. In this time PR should notify news media, social media, internal publics, external publics, and lawyers. With technology at our fingertips, we demand information immediately following a crisis.
Court of Law vs. Court of Public Opinion
A PR professional must make an important decision when crisis arises, will the organization be scrutinized under the court of law or under the court of public opinion? We all know that under the court of law we are ‘innocent until proven guilty;’ however, in the court of public opinion, we are ‘guilty until proven innocent.’
Johnson and Johnson
Most of you are probably familiar with the Johnson and Johnson crisis of 1982. Someone (still unknown) laced tylenol with cyanide and killed seven people in the Chicago area. Johnson and Johnson is still studied in books now because of the way they masterfully handled the situation.
In 2007, Jetblue left passengers stranded on a runway due to snow. Even though the crisis was due to weather, Jetblue took full responsibility for the incident and promised to take future steps to prevent future problems.
After the owner of the Clippers, Donald Sterling, was recorded making racist comments the commissioner of the NBA, Adam Silver, took quick action against him.
After the incident the NBA went on to create a “We Are One” ad.
- Assess your risks before they happen.
- Create a crisis plan (framework, teams and responsibilities, key messaging, procedures, internal and external contact lists, checklists).
- Designate a spokesperson.
- Create a sense of “we-ness” among internal publics (employees, management, interns, retirees, stakeholders).
- Get information out fast, but always be accurate.
- Never reveal assumptions to the media.
- A crisis is interesting. Make it uninteresting by continuously providing information to the public.
- Know your key message, and keep reiterating it to your audience.
- Never turn a problem into a crisis. Fix the problem, but don’t make it bigger than it needs to be.