GDP Blog

What if Tracy Morgan was suing your company?

Posted by John Powter

Jul 15, 2014 10:43:00 PM

Can your company survive a PR Disaster? 

On June 7th Tracy Morgan was struck by a truck that was driven by a WalMart employee.  

This article is not to debate the issue of the lawsuit.  We are going to give you steps to help your company survive a public relations nightmare. 

One of the most talented and popular comedians today, Morgan's appearances on Saturday Night Live and Howard Stern are wildly popular.  The actor, 45, suffered broken ribs, a broken nose and a broken leg in the crash.  This last Thursday he filed suit against WalMart who has the deep pockets and legal team to go toe to toe with the celebrity.  The driver who was involved in the accident appears to be within the federal guidelines for the number of hours on the road, but this is a PR nightmare for WalMart's side. 

What would happen if this was your company that was being sued?  

How would you be able to go up against someone who has the access to media and star power that he does? Most companies go out of business after an event like this.  For example, the 100 employee HVAC company responsible for the Target credit card breach changed their name, but quickly went out of business.  They had all the proper insurance, but the risk that put them out was an uninsurable risk:  reputation damage. 

Here are 5 steps on how to make sure your business can survive a PR Disaster:

Step 1: Plan Before a Crisis 

The first and best step you can take to improve how you handle a public relations crisis is to plan your response beforehand. Start by establishing a crisis communication team.

If you're a larger business, this team should consist of senior management, legal advisors, and communications advisors. For smaller businesses, this team may simply consist of you, a public relations advisor, and a lawyer you've established a relationship with and can call on at a moment's notice.

These individuals will be responsible for creating and executing the crisis response and managing the situation as it unfolds. All planning and communications—internal and external—should be dictated by the team. Nobody outside of the team should make any crisis-related decisions or speak on behalf of your business. Having a unified internal team is essential to maintaining control, which is difficult to recover once lost.

Step 2: Crisis Prep

Once a team is assembled, prepare a list of reporters, investors, customers, business partners, advisors, employees, third-party experts, community leaders, and anyone else who should be notified during a crisis. Have this list in an easily accessible location, along with contact information for your internal crisis team members, for immediate reference.

You should also prepare a company fact sheet, listing up-to-date information about your organization. If a crisis occurs, this information can be distributed to reporters at press conferences or during interviews.

A crisis communication plan is only good if it's vigilantly maintained, updated, and rehearsed. Members of the crisis communication team need to meet regularly to double-check contingencies. 

Step 3: During a Crisis

When a crisis happens, do not wait to go public with any problem that affects your customers. While it will hurt to reveal an internal failure, the blow back your organization receives from the public will be much less painful in the long run than it will if you try to cover up the problem. An immediate disclosure will prevent people from questioning your motives for sitting on information and may even earn some respect from customers who feel they have been apprised of the situation in a timely fashion. You don’t need to have all the answers, but you do need own up to the problem.

Put together a release to be distributed describing what happened and the situation as it stands. Let customers know what your next action will be and what changes they can expect in the meantime. Also tell them where to direct their questions and comments. If necessary, hold a press conference to avoid having to deal with multiple media requests.

Step 4: Control Your Message

Depending on the nature of the crisis, several outside entities may start talking about the situation within your organization. These may include media, law enforcement, lawyers, banks, hackers, disgruntled customers and social media users.

In the face of all the discussion, you want to make sure your organization is controlling the conversation as much as possible. As reflexive as it might be to choose not to comment or say only that you are taking the matter seriously, that is not helpful. If the story is big enough, people are going to be talking, and if they don’t get information from you, they will get it from a third party, an internal leak, or rumors.

Instruct all employees who are not part of the crisis team to direct requests for comment to the company spokesperson. Talk to reporters and post messages on your social media accounts. If necessary, consider using paid advertising to get your message across. In all instances, however, make sure your message is the unvarnished truth. If any false or inaccurate statements are uncovered, the damage is practically impossible to reverse.

The best thing you can do to prevent a public relations crisis from turning into a public relations disaster is to anticipate what could happen and train to respond to it. When a crisis is unfolding, the quickest and least damaging way to steer through it is to immediately alert your customers, disclose how it impacts them and deliver timely updates as you work towards a solution.

Step 5: What's next 

After the crisis dies down, you can begin the work of repairing relationships with clients and determining how to prevent problems from occurring in the future. But it’s important to remember that no matter how perfect the fix, if the crisis is handled poorly in the beginning, it may already be too late.

If you need help designing a complete Disaster Plan with a fully executed PR strategy, we can help.  Call one of our GDP Advisors today so we can show you how you could survive, recover, and thrive instead of going out of business. 


Topics: Risk Management

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