Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A Few Words on PR Crisis Management

It could happen to you, are you ready? The news crew shows up at 4:15 p.m. ready to make the 5:00 p.m. broadcast. "Do you have a comment?" they ask. "A comment about what!?" You're in a panic. Ambush!

One of the most important tools in a church's PR arsenal is a crisis management plan. A well-thought-out plan of action is a lifesaver in the midst of a crisis - whether that crisis is a sex scandal, a tragic accident on church property, or neighbors upset about your new building program.

Global PR Blogweek offers seven elements your crisis management plan should include:

1. Identify the members of your crisis management team.
2. Identify a spokesperson and make sure that each member of the crisis management team has key contact info.
3. Prepare fact sheets on your organization that can quickly be duplicated.
4. Prepare biographies on key staff.
5. Have copies of your press release format, logos and key signatures on file.
6. Think through crisis scenarios and develop pre-written statements that could serve as a foundation for a first response.
7. Compile contact information for your media contacts.

If you've never created a plan, try here or here for instructions and tips on how to do it.

This past spring, the group Opus Dei received a lot of publicity with the release of The Da Vinci Code.* While I don't agree with or support their take on theology or religion, I did find comments from the group's Director of Communications very interesting. With the publicity surrounding the book and movie, the group was faced with dipictions of their practices that were not representative of who they are. They were faced with this negative publicity on a national, and even global, scale. How did they approach their PR crisis?

First, they turned the publicity into a "proselytizing opportunity." They took the unique opportunity of massive press interest and tried to use it in their favor. They told stories of real Opus Dei members and their lives of piety. “We can either weep, or we can sing our song,” said Juan Manuel Mora, Director of Communications for Opus Dei.

Second, they reached out for allies. They sought support from others sympathetic to their practices and had public affirmations from well-known and well-respected people and institutions. This, in some measure, helped to re-establish their credibility.

Third, they avoided becoming defensive, and instead approached publicity with an open attitude and a willingness to play the media game. They honed their message. “Any aggressive tone would have played into [their hand],” said Mora.

It's good advice. Turn the attention in your favor, get support from other organizations, and be accessible to the media with a carefully crafted message. Take the time to preplan for a PR crisis. By doing so, you'll help ensure that your organization will come out the other end unscathed.

[* Source: Van Biema, David. “The Ways of Opus Dei,” Time Magazine, April 24, 2006.]


Blogger Cory Miller said...

Golden advice! Great post. I hope church comm people are forwarding this post to their pastors.

Sadly, I think we don't plan until we're hit with a crisis.

It seems like a lot of the elements in the plan could also be made into a "media kit" and placed on the "About" page of church sites and serve dual functions.

4:23 PM  

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