A Crisis Comms Family Affair – A Lesson in PR Emergency Preparedness

When you were a child, your parents always asked, “What did you do at school today?” You may have responded, “Ate lunch with my friends and played kickball at recess!” or “Read about mammals and learned about triangles in geometry.” Fast forward to now, when anyone in your family asks that question in relation to your job, it can be difficult to answer.

At our Bring Your Family to Work Day event, first we asked our families how they describe our job. While they proved to know more about PR than we expected, we decided to give them an inside look at our world, by putting them through a crisis communications activity.

The activity required us to divide into teams, which taught our families their first big lesson in PR: it’s all about collaboration. PR is a very collaborative industry, and when working at an agency, you almost never make a move or recommendation without consulting your teammates.

PR Crisis Comms 1

VP Kali Myrick with family members Trish Markey, Debby Collins and DeeDee Cacchione

Another key to collaboration is perception. Not a single guest had a background in communications, but they brought with them an ideal of how they want a company they know and trust to react if a crisis strikes. Throughout the activity, we combined our existing PR lens with their outside perspective in order to reach one common goal — draft a response tweet (280 characters or less) that immediately addressed a hypothetical crisis scenario. 

As conversation and strategizing began, our families started to understand the importance of critical thinking and creativity. PR professionals are constantly tasked with creating new and fresh ideas for pitches, bylines, social media content and more. Once we gather all the information, we need to know how to interpret that information for our audience and the media.

PR Crisis Comms 2

Fellow Hoffman employees Nicolas Vavuris, Sarah Collins, Caitlin Kruell and Mikaela Farasyn

As anyone who works in social media knows, 280 characters isn’t a lot to work with, even if it’s more than the previous limits of 140, so deciding how to approach the situation with so few words can be difficult.

Here’s what the teams created:

Scenario #1

It’s launch week and your client dropped a brand new lipstick; however, one customer posted complaints on Twitter about quality issues, such as black (or moldy) specks or not enough product. Another customer complains that it’s drying and peeling. And then the complaints keep coming.

One of your spokespeople has responded to a customer, suggesting their make-up routine is the problem, not the product. More complaints come through.

  • “Pucker up! We are currently testing to evaluate the issue. Thank you for the feedback and continued support. If you purchased our product that has a quality issue please email [email protected].”

Scenario #2

Your client released an ad that is picking up negative attention. It features an A-list celebrity going about their daily lives, but stops to join a protest and uses your client’s product as a symbol to solve the issues at hand and bring peace. However, viewers are upset and think the ad trivializes the protests and negates the true meaning of the movement.

  • “It was never our intention to offend nor negate the true meaning of the movement. We deeply respect the right of the American people to protest social injustices. Moving forward, we’ll work to immerse ourselves in the experiences of diverse groups to better inform our decisions.”

Scenario #3

CNN posts an interview with your client’s spokesperson who addresses the ongoing issues between China and U.S. and why people aren’t trusting of China-based companies. The spokesperson then goes on to share that they believe people should not work with China-based companies because of security concerns. However, this is not what is believed by the company as a whole, although the article portrays it as such.

  • “Some China-based companies don’t value privacy and security — we are focused on changing this stigma. To find out more about our privacy rules, please read more here: [link]”
PR Crisis Comms 3

Family member Stephanie Hitchcock, working with Hoffmanites Carey Kerns and Kiana Cacchione

Scenario #4

Northeast Airlines has a strong reputation; however, a plane recently experienced a mid-air engine explosion, killing one passenger. Throughout the day, tensions between management and airline mechanics are exposed, with the latter alleging that the company had adopted a culture that put safety second to on-time performance.

  • “We’re deeply saddened for this loss and our hearts go out to the family of the deceased. Safety is our first priority and we’re doing everything we can to ensure tragedies like this never happen again. We are grounding our fleet until a thorough safety inspection is performed.”

Scenario #5

A video recently leaked of your client’s CEO spatting inappropriate remarks against women. Following that, female former employees begin sharing stories on social media of similar situations, or even worse, detailing the incidents and attributing that to their reason for quitting. In some cases, the employees were fired.

  • “We’re aware of the allegations levied against our CEO, and have suspended him without pay for the duration of the pending investigation. This does not reflect our values; our remaining executives are completing sensitivity & conduct training and we apologize for the pain & misconduct that transpired.”
PR Crisis Comms 4

Hoffmanites Haley Dowell and Jack Dulzo with family members Steve Markey and Alle Cacchione

As you can see, no approach to a solution is the same. Some mention a solution, a few include a call to action for followers and one even has some humor behind it.

Although we don’t experience a PR crisis every day, the same skills required to mitigate them are critical to handling day-to-day client comms, media strategy and more. Now when our families ask what we did at work, they know whatever happened, it likely included a mix of collaboration, creativity and critical thinking (and probably coffee).

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