Tuesday, 4 April 2006

Church communicators are probably not going to face a crisis as big as that of Masterfoods, maker of Mars and Snickers bars, but there are a few key lessons that can be gleaned from it still.

Was at the city this morning listening to how David Hawkins of Socom PR helped the company handle the crisis and here are a few things church communicators would find helpful if ever faced with one.

For those wondering, a crisis in public relations speak is basically an issue that could potentially harm the reputation, brand and trust that people have of an organisation.
  • Depending on the nature of the crisis, the police may be involved. Make sure you provide full cooperation and maintain constant communication. The police may be obligated to provide the media with information that would affect your organisation and it would be helpful if you are made aware of these information beforehand. You cannot stop the message the police give, but you can at least control the damage by being prepared to provide further information that will help your cause.
  • Ensure that you have media releases and fact sheets ready to send to the media. (More on how to write a media release later.)
  • Stick to a few key words and a key message. For Masterfoods, it was "public safety is our main concern."
  • Have one credible spokesperson (usually the pastor) to ensure a consistent message is given to the media. You don't have to answer all the questions the journalist asks, but never reply with a "no comment". Instead, redirect their focus and phrase your answer so that your key message is reinforced.
  • Make sure you are as open and honest as possible. Be available to the media as often as you can (the president of Masterfoods was available from 6am to 10pm everyday during the crisis). If you hide from the media, they normally assume the worst.
  • Focus on the positive. Think of ways that you can change something negative into a positive one. Instead of focussing on the fact that not all their Mars bars were recalled and a 15 year old boy consumed one and got ill, Masterfoods focussed on the fact that the boy was advised by a stranger about the danger and it became a "citizen hero" story.
  • Monitor what the media and the public is saying. Newspapers, the internet, blogs, chatrooms...
Finally, there are professional PR firms out there who are trained to handle crisis and who will media train your spokesperson that will especially prepare them to handle grilling interviews. If your crisis does get that big and that out of hand, make sure you get them on board.

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bilbo said...

I think perhaps Sanitarium had one of the same scale as Masterfoods with the So Good extortion. Would make a good story if it was allowed to be told.

-ben said...

You have to catch "Thank You for Smoking."
Aaron Eckhart plays the perfect role as the official spokesman for the tobacco coalition. Watch how he demolishes his opponents. Great satire.

Melody said...

bilbo - actually haven't heard of the So Good extortion! May be before my time in Australia, or I could have had my head buried in the sand.

ben - are you saying there's a movie out? Wow! I've actually read the book and absolutely loved it. Have you read Syrup by Max Barry? Great satirical book about marketing.

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