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Managing Bad News Days |

Authored by ARAG

As well as legal and tax advice helplines, ARAG’s commercial legal expenses policyholders also have access to our innovative Crisis Communications facility, which offers expert public relations advice if an event leads to negative publicity for the insured business. The service is delivered by crisis communications experts Chelgate and we asked Executive Chairman Terence Fane-Saunders to share his decades of experience managing PR crises.

Sometimes I feel the work we do for our smallest crisis clients can actually be the most important. Yes, we handle crises for governments and major multinationals, and their media can be flooded with damaging news and allegation, but this seldom closes a business or brings down a government. They may be wounded, but they stumble on.

But for a small business, bad press can mean the end of the road. A surge of hostile local publicity can effectively kill the market for them. And when we talk of publicity, we are not simply referring to print and broadcast media. Social media has transformed the way information and opinion is spread within a community and, in turn, this can weave itself into spoken conversations – the chat at the school gates, the word passed on at the local pub or the coffee morning. Traditional media feed off social media too, these days, so an allegation made on Facebook, say, or Instagram, can quickly be picked up by your local newspaper or broadcaster, if it seems newsworthy enough.

With much Crisis Management, speed can be crucial, helping to limit and contain a story before it really catches fire. But it’s vital to know what to do, and which buttons to press when negative publicity strikes. For example, almost every review platform, from Trustpilot to Checkatrade and Google Reviews, will have its own code and procedures for dealing with complaints and allegations. A part of our job is simply knowing the best way to deal with each.

Sometimes a crisis will arise because something bad has happened and, yes, our client may be at fault. But when that has happened, it’s important we know the facts, all the facts, even when they are not very pleasant. Then we can work together with the client to shape their narrative.

But when we shape a narrative, we never mislead. This is not because we claim some halo of higher moral status; it’s simply that lying is bad business. When a crisis “goes public” facts will come out, and if those facts show you’ve been trying to manipulate the truth, no-one will believe anything else you say. For good news management, credibility is essential.

But there can be more than one version of the truth. One version may be accurate but hostile, aligning facts in the most damaging way, not allowing for context or explanation. This must not be allowed to dominate. So, it’s usually important to ensure that your version is out there early, shaping understanding, and leading the news and comment surrounding your crisis. It can be very difficult to turn back or correct a false or hostile narrative, once it’s “out there”.

But in getting your story out, it’s not just media and social media you need to think about. There will be others who expect to hear from you direct, and some of them will be important carriers of your message.

Start with your own staff, if you have any. Make sure they understand the story, but also ensure they know what they should and should not say, when talking to others. Key customers and business partners will be high on your priority contact list too. You’ll probably need something in writing for them, but be prepared to talk, too.

Sometimes, too, there will be third parties – the emergency services or regulators, for example – who have their own communications arrangements, and may be commenting or issuing information about your crisis.

Managing communications with these outside sources can be a vital element in your Crisis Communications strategy. If a crisis does hit, getting your communications right can be absolutely critical to the final outcome.

It can also be a complex and demanding task. But Chelgate is available seven days a week, for immediate, urgent communications advice and support, and to help you manage your most pressing Crisis Communications tasks.

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