If you are a PR practitioner, sooner or later you are going to come up against a ‘situation’ that needs to be controlled carefully. There are definite means and processes for navigating these issues and coming up still smelling of roses. And, there are ways to shoot yourself in the foot.
The fact is, the impact of negative exposure can hit any company or individual with a public profile at any time, no matter how big or small. But using some high profile examples, here are some cases in illustration of good and bad issues management.
First let’s take a current example – The Prime Minister’s Oz Cars email scandal! The Opposition has made claims that Mr Rudd used his position to help car dealer friend, John Grant, get finance through the Governments Oz Car scheme. At the time of writing this, the issue is as yet unresolved, but what I do know is that Mr. Rudd has chosen to fight for his name and address this head on. Kevin Rudd has called for an Auditor Generals enquiry into the affair. He has the advantage that the alleged email source for The Opposition’s information hasn’t been produced – if The Rudd administration has honesty on its side it is absolutely right to speak up and put up a fight on this one. Let’s see, hey?
So when isn’t it smart to fight? Easy, when you are wrong – as my grandmother always said, ‘the truth will out!’ Take Bill Clinton and the Monica Lewinski scandal that will be long remembered by people the world over. Instead of looking down the camera and professing innocence (who could forget the immortal line ‘I did not have sexual relations with that woman’ – it’s still on YouTube)a better approach might have been to say ‘you know what, I’m sorry, how can I regain your trust?’
But even if you are in the right, fighting can be risky if over done. Remember, the harder you fight, the more you push your issue (the negative one, right) into the public eye.
And when you are wrong? Dominoes so adeptly demonstrated the humility approach with its recent ‘cheese up the nose’ scandal – yuk! The thought of Dominoes employees stuffing my toppings into various orifices before placing them on my pizza was absolutely enough for me to give them a wide berth forever. Until I saw the apology and felt reassured the company was dealing with it and Dominoes would probably have the world’s cleanest pizzas as a result.
Another good strategy for when you’re in the wrong is to provide balance by highlighting what is ‘good’ next to what has been perceived as ‘not so good’ to complete the picture.
So basically, what I’m trying to say is you have to ‘you gotta know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em’ .. ok, so that was what Kenny Rogers was trying to say, but you get the gist.
Here are a few issues management pointers:
1. First properly identify your issue. Make sure you understand what is being said about you/your company/your offering so you are best positioned to formulate a response strategy. Twitter is a great place to eavesdrop on the buzz and gain a full understanding of public opinion. Also check news and blogs regularly to gather information.
2. Analyse the issue. What are the drivers behind the comments being made? There might be more than one answer here. Maybe one group are dissatisfied with your product or service. Maybe a separate group stands to gain from your demise through this issue – these groups need addressing separately and in different ways.
3. Develop a positioning policy on the issue, so it can be addressed consistently through our every medium (a solid approach to communicating your response is a must). Include timelines and budget assignments so that you have parameters to measure results against – is your approach working or not? Does the policy need adjusting in response to a change in public comment?
4. Define the actual tactics you are going to deploy to address the issue (YouTube response, blogging, Twittering, direct contact with customer base, press release, TV interviews etc.)
5. Review the reaction to your actions on an ongoing basis and stay on top of the issue until you achieve a satisfactory conclusion.