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Keeping Your Association Safe from Bad Public Relations

Posted By Jess Myers, Thursday, November 3, 2016
Updated: Monday, November 14, 2016

The time to shop for a fire extinguisher is not when you smell smoke. In the same vein, when you have a public relations crisis on your hands, that’s not the time to think about putting a P.R plan in place.

By definition, a crisis that affects or involves your association is bad news, and the way to lessen the impact of bad news is to have a plan in place before trouble strikes.

Some basic tips on a PR plan:

Know in advance what you want to say if bad news comes.

  • Picture a bad thing that could happen involving your association, and then think of your ideal response. Write down your response. Keep a list of potential good responses. These are called “talking points,” and they can make a huge difference.
  • Having a prepared, well thought-out response, versus a potentially damaging off-the-cuff response, can vastly improve the image of your association in a time of crisis.

Know who you want to deliver the message.

  • Appoint a single spokesperson to deliver messages on behalf of the association in times of crisis.
  • Make sure everyone in your association knows who the spokesperson is, and that when they are contacted by the press, they say, “Please contact our spokesperson.”
  • This is vitally important for controlling the message and making sure one voice, rather than several voices, is speaking on behalf of your association.

Be mindful of what you can and cannot share.

  • In times of crisis, the press may ask about a variety of sensitive information. Things like financial records, legal proceedings, and information regarding minors. While we hate using “no comment,” it’s fair to be mindful of what information you simply cannot legally offer, and to say that.
  • It’s fine to tell a reporter, “I’m sorry, but I do not have any information I can share about that.”

Know that everything you say and do is “on the record.”

  • You are never “just talking” with a member of the press.
  • If a reporter calls, from the moment you say “hello” to the moment you hang up, anything you say can be used in their story.
  • If you are being interviewed on TV or radio, the interview hasn’t ended until the reporter has left the room. Be very mindful around microphones. Always assume they are turned on and recording.

 Don’t bluff.

  • Reporters can smell bluffing a mile away. If you don’t know the answer to a question, it’s OK to say, “I’m sorry, I don’t have that information. Let me get it for you or find someone who can answer that.” In fact, it’s much better to say that than to try to fake your way through an answer.
  • If you don’t understand a question, ask for clarification. Trying to bluff your way through an answer is going to leave the reporter unsatisfied, at best, and can be disastrous.

If you’re asked about a problem, talk about a solution.

  • For example, if a reporter calls and asks about a safety issue, talk about all of the strict measures in place to help prevent safety problems.
  • If the reporter asks about an issue with a budget, an appropriate answer would be to cite all of the measures in place to check and balance budgets. They ask about a problem, you talk about a solution.

Every now and then, we smell smoke. The way to keep that smoke from becoming a fire that damages your association’s reputation is to have that fire extinguisher (in this case, a solid PR plan) in place, ready to go, before the smoke detector starts blaring.

Tags:  crisis management  media  PR plan  public relations 

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