The s**t has hit the fan. Your company is going to make headlines of the wrong kind.
Your switchboard is in meltdown and your IT team overwhelmed by incoming inquiries via the website. Nasty comments appearing on Facebook could seriously dent your brand and reputation.
Who do you want to handle the massed ranks of the media now bearing down?
What kind of crisis PR agency can you trust to anticipate the questions they’ll ask, so you work out answers in advance? Who is going to be best at identifying where and how they’ll try to doorstep the chief exec en route to his or her next meeting?
Someone with a background in journalism.
They’ll have a much better understanding of how a journalist thinks about how they’ll gather information – and lengths they’ll go to find it.
And while they can’t necessarily stop stories appearing, they’re the best at mitigating any bad coverage.
They’ll appreciate the pressure reporters are put under by their editors to get the story first. After all, jobs can be on the line. Good performance for a journalist is getting the story.
Someone with a proper insight into the media is well equipped to anticipate next moves. They’ll know that a sign at the factory gate saying ‘No Entry’ won’t stop camera operators walking around the perimeter fence for photos of the fire raging.
The biggest benefit of handing over responsibility for crisis PR to someone with a background in journalism is that they are best to pre-empt and head off the worst of the coverage.
They’ll tell you the precise questions you’ll be asked – and probably in which order; and be able to anticipate angles the editor has in mind for tonight’s news programme or the headline on the next ‘Breaking News’ email circular.
If your crisis PR person has been there and done it as a reporter, scouting round for witnesses; and writing a news story or recording a piece to camera about your very scenario (or similar because all are put together to the same formula), they’ll know the traps your company should avoid to mitigate bad coverage.
Someone with a true understanding about the culture and pressures of a newsroom, the speed with which items can be generated and published or broadcast and the degree of competitiveness between rival outlets, is the best person to have on your watch.
Indeed, these are the people who know what to do to bypass intermediate rounds of coverage and jump straight to the conclusion.
They can’t necessarily stop coverage, but may minimise it to two bouts of coverage instead of many pieces dragged out over several days.
That’s something else you can be confident about from a crisis PR person with a background in journalism: they can judge exactly when an issue or crisis crosses the line from a ‘maybe’ of coverage to a dead cert – so you can plan for it.