Unfortunately one of the primary reasons a business or individual hires a public relations firm nowadays is because they are in crisis. For some reason they need to turn around negative public opinion.
P.R. firms put out fires. That's certainly not the only reason a p.r. firm is important, but since at some point in your career as a writer, minister or businessman you will hit crisis, let's look at the steps to handle this correctly.
Deal with it. If a negative news story or situation has hit the public eye the "stick your head in the sand" approach rarely works. Ignoring something doesn't make it go away. It just allows it to grow unattended.
Research, don't react. You need to investigate and determine the facts. Knee jerk reactions will most often come back to bite you. If accusations have been made or slanderous statements have been given, find out if there is any element of truth to the story. Do not make a public statement without research or you may have to retract it later. It makes you look like you are lying or covering up a situation. But do address the situation quickly. The worst thing you can do is remain completely silent. So get to work.
Circle the wagons. Determine who will be the point person or communicator to the media. Anoint and appoint them to make your statements. However, it is also important that they train the rest of your personnel on appropriate responses. You need to see this as a team and so treat those involved as a team. They may feel broadsided as well if they suddenly find themselves working for a company that is in a lawsuit or under media attack. Keep them informed. If they are involved and must address the media for some reason, help them shape responses that are appropriate and thought through so that they do not feel they are out there alone. Equip them. Also, they should never have to hear what is going when they turn the news. Ever.
Honesty Wins. Not every p.r. firm will agree with me on this one. Think back to the days of the Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal. Denial is typically the name of the game with p.r. I disagree with this approach. The truth always comes out. Let it come from you, and how and when you will say it. Obviously with many situations you need good legal counsel in this area in what you can say. But don't hide behind the phrase, "We can't discuss this." No one buys it.
I worked with a company several years ago that found themselves embroiled in what became a media frenzy. An employee had crossed some ethical lines and news of the indiscretion had reached the media. Had the business addressed it quickly, the story more than likely would have disappeared. But instead the business ignored it and "put their head in the sand." When it didn't go away, the media statements they made were vague. When false accusations arose in the media, they refused to address them or refute them. The result was the perception, "Well, since they didn't deny it they must be guilty."
In the end the company had to make a huge financial payout to settle the case out-of-court and the integrity of the business was severely damaged. Why? Because the public never felt as if they were being honest. *** NOTE: I've had both businesses and ministries hire me to assist in promoting an author with a new book in which they were not honest with me. They gave me the information on the new product, but did not inform me that the author had some skeletons in the closet. Skeletons that were about to come into the public eye. This has happened more times then I care to recount. It only took a few phone calls to media contacts to get a whiff that something within the business/ministry was wrong. The company that hired me was not honest with me from the beginning. In these situations I ALWAYS walk away. If you cannot be honest with your public relations firm that is working with you, then you deserve what you get. It's like a lawyer defending a client in which the client doesn't reveal the truth to their own lawyer. This is a deal breaker....always. The truth will come out. Don't make others pay for your mistakes. ***
Rebuild. No matter the situation, true or not, fair or not, public perception and trust must be rebuilt. This will take time and effort, but it is worth it. When a negative story arises, people don't forget. It may go into the past, but it is still there unless it is addressed and overcome. How do you do that? Through media statements, press releases, and follow through. Position your company not only by what you say, but by what you do. They have to match. If the integrity of your company or your ministry has been put into question, then you need to address it and rebuild it. You need to state who you are and where you are going. This happens on your website, in articles, in social media posts....often.
When I was young "everyone" knew that products made in Japan were junk. They were known for low quality and consistency. It was across the board whether it was clothes, toys or cars. Think about that statement. Now some forty years later Japan has completely changed that perception. Japanese cars are in high demand as are many of their products. Why? Because they not only changed their behaviors, but they repositioned themselves and eventually they changed our perception. It can be done. It just takes time and consistency.
Who you are today is not who you will be tomorrow. That can work for you or against you. If you are at the top of your game right now, it won't last unless you remain consistent and work at it. You can't coast. Consequently, if you are an author yet to be published, a business yet to be recognized or a ministry that is unknown, the good news is you can change that perception. You can reposition yourself by what you say and what you do.
If you've taken a hit, you can overcome the crisis. If you've never found yourself in that position of crisis, good! But more than likely one day you will. If you are making a difference, someone will come after you.Know what to do and you can more than likely come through intact. It's all about learning how to handle the crisis correctly.