Organizations that make mistakes and are quick to apologize will find that most people are quick to forgive. (Of course the apology must be sincere to be effective, and an apology without corrective action will ring hollow and likely be counterproductive.)
On the other hand, digging in and refusing to acknowledge a mistake—hoping that people won’t notice or care—generally makes matters worse. One of my career mentors gave me a piece of PR advice I’ve always remembered: “Never deny the obvious.”
It’s amazing, though, how many companies and individuals do that very thing. Sometimes people see a problem coming long before it actually hits and could be easily corrected. The situation can become a “smoldering” crisis, which is a potentially damaging condition that’s known to one or more individuals.
Most crises start out as smoldering issues that could have been anticipated and minimized—or averted altogether—had appropriate action been taken in the early stages before the problem gets out of hand and wreaks havoc.
Some of my best PR successes are those that never saw the light of day—they had potential to turn into a crisis but were averted by dealing with them in the smoldering stage.
Such “saves” don’t show up in the PR “stats sheet,” but they can save a client or an employer millions of dollars in bad publicity and untold damage to a brand.
If something is smoldering at your organization, deal with it now because chances are it won’t go away or improve through neglect. More often than not, the smoldering crisis will turn into a consuming fire, devouring valuable time and resources and impeding your organization’s ability to function.
One of the best ways to identify potential smoldering situations in advance—and help you maintain control and minimize damage if a crisis strikes—is to have a flexible crisis management plan in place.
The plan should:
- Contemplate the types of crises that could occur
- Set forth policies and procedures to deal with them
- Identify all audiences and the best ways to communicate with them
- Have a pre-selected crisis management team in place
- Establish a system for communicating accurate information quickly and effectively
The only thing worse than not having a crisis plan is having one that is not communicated, reviewed or tested by those who ultimately will have to implement it. That’s about as effective as having a fire extinguisher that’s hidden away and no one knows how to use if they manage to find it.
If a crisis strikes, you’ll be glad you took the time to plan ahead and prepare for the worst—and that others know what to do as well.