Tips for hiring the right public relations firm

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Crisis communication is a subspecialty of public relations profession designed to protect and defend a person, business or organization facing a public challenge to their reputation. Crisis communications aim to raise awareness of a specific type of threat, the magnitude, outcomes and specific behaviors to be adopted to reduce the threat.

– Wikipedia

Over the past 20 years, we’ve learned five big lessons about crisis communication:

  • Crisis communication is very different from “normal” public relations. Often, the advice we give is counterintuitive to the traditional practice of public relations.

  • The ubiquity and speed of the Internet has changed everything. Your bad news is more than likely to be broadcast on social media, not tomorrow’s TV or newspaper. Today, fast and accurate communications are essential to your crisis response.

  • You cannot learn crisis communication (as well as the sister subspecialties of crisis management, risk management, risk communication, and problem management) from books, blogs, or from books. ‘relatively minor scratches with small problems. Mastering these specialties comes from having previous careers in corporate communications, television news, traditional journalism, digital platforms and political campaigns, as well as constant cross-training with other members of the l team, combined with difficult situations with customers day in and day out. day. Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-Hour Skill Rule is not very far from the account.

  • More often than not, we don’t just help people know what to say, but instead we help them know what to do. A general rule of thumb: more often than not you will be punished not for what you did, but for what you did after it happened.

  • There must always be someone in the room ready to speak the truth in power. And if this is truly a crisis situation, you can be sure that there will be lawyers present who will too often insist on saying “no comment”, focusing narrowly on winning the trial, even if. 97% of all cases brought to court never go to trial.

Another thing that we have noticed, especially in the last few years, is the large number of PR firms now claiming to offer crisis communication services. If a PR agency is already selling marketing plans, new product launches, social media management, brand building, employee engagement, investor relations, and digital marketing, it’s easy to do this. ‘add “crisis communication” as a specialty of the agency without having really personal professionals to provide this service.

The business model of most public relations firms is similar to that of law, accounting and architectural firms. Seniors bring the work and entrust it to less experienced (and less well paid) juniors. (By the way, this is not the model you want when you are facing a critical crisis.) Certainly, there are exceptions to this. The country’s largest public relations firms have dedicated crisis communications units that deal with a constant stream of crisis situations, continually honing their expertise. But for most PR firms, real crisis work is typically only a very small percentage of their total billable hours. This means that there are few opportunities for the team to develop the expertise required by crisis situations.

So if every PR company claims to offer crisis communications, how do you make sure that the company you are calling is not exaggerating its capabilities? A place to start is with these seven questions:

  1. Can the PR firm share a list of clients for whom they have provided crisis communication or issue management services?

  2. Can you get a list of case studies that describe, in some detail, what the firm has done for clients facing a situation similar to yours?

  3. Ask for the firm’s experience in crisis situations involving social media. Today, reputations built over the years can be shattered in minutes on Facebook or Twitter.

  4. Ask specifically who you will be working with on a daily basis, their experience and examples of similar situations they have worked on.

  5. Ask if the company writes crisis communication plans and what goes into those plans. Even if you don’t need a plan right now – or if you don’t have the time to develop one – you will learn how immersed the business is in crisis communication.

  6. Ask what type of training the company offers, who offers this training, and the depth and breadth of their experience.

  7. And, perhaps, the most important question: what percentage of the company’s overall work would be considered “crisis” work? If the answer is 10%, 20% – or even 50% – consider whether you want communications about your crisis to be outsourced to a company that is doing other things half the time or more.

Finally, remember: you can’t get out of a crisis by the way. Your communications should be supported by action and commitment to follow.

When choosing a company to be your crisis communications partner, make sure you pick one that speaks up – one that has earned its reputation for knowing its way into a specialty that very few communications companies have mastered. .

© 2021 Hennes Communications. All rights reserved.Revue nationale de droit, volume XI, number 194

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