4 steps celebrities like Jussie Smollett can take to revive their reputations, according to PR crisis expert Ronn Torossian
The key to overcoming even the most severe situations is to not only get out of hot water, but cool down the crisis in the process.
Michael Avenatti, Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, Jussie Smollett and Liam Neeson are just a few of the PR crises we've witnessed in the past few months. As it seems we've only scratched the surface for some of the biggest PR disasters of 2019, it's more important than ever to understand and be able to execute the cardinal rules of crisis communications.
Many high public figures run into public relations issues, whether it be subtle or a sweeping viral story. The key to overcoming even the most severe situations is to not only get out of hot water but cool down the crisis in the process. So, how can public figures and notable brands recover and revive their reputations in today's digital age?
Here's how they can Fix It according to Ronn Torossian, CEO of 5WPR, a leading PR agency.
When it comes to a PR crisis, you don't want to be trying to learn how to handle it as it's unfolding. What is done next plays a major role in determining the outcome. A PR client pausing and planning before responding could make or break the initial narrative addressing the crisis. Ignoring the event and burying your head in the sand will inevitably result in the situation turning into an unmitigated disaster.
The first 48-hour window of the crisis is the most important. Message control is vital, and you need to have a carefully thought out plan and response that will resonate with the public. When you're in the hot seat, the initial response is critical, and preparation is a key factor to ensure the situation is dealt with as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Control the controversy
There are many steps involved in preparing to deal with an image setback, and if you wait until the media and the public guide the narrative on your behalf, you will find yourself scrambling to react to their demands instead of calmly managing their perceptions.
The most important thing is to get ahead of the problem. Schedule time with a PR crisis management specialist as soon as you can work it into your budget — and make it a priority. Ultimately, you'll need to deal with the problem in real time.
While a fast response is always recommended in crisis PR, don't jump the gun. Events can escalate quickly and you need a strong voice in the conversation. However, if you go out with the wrong message, that fast response could be counterproductive.
Communicate your message
From there, communicate your carefully crafted message to everyone who's been affected. A tweet or a post won't cut it and letting the media provide updates on your behalf will only make matters worse. Work on your delivery, too, because how you say things in public can oftentimes be more important than what you actually say.
Often in the world of crisis, there are two courts to worry about, the court of law and the court of public opinion. The way you communicate your response can make or break your standing in either. Take Jussie Smollett, for example. Even though he was found innocent in the court of law, he's still definitely guilty in the court of public opinion, and his career in Hollywood is over.
Understand that you will be at the center of media interest and the consumer firestorm. Instead of being defensive, own that unflattering spotlight. Accept responsibility where appropriate, project empathy, be understanding, and display a commitment for making things right. If you don't give the media and the masses a solid, effective message, they will create their own narrative and run with it.
Stay on top of it
Once the proper lines of communication are in place, you have to do maintenance work to make sure that your message is effective and is working in your favor. Ideally, your message should be conveyed to the relevant people within 24 to 48 hours of a problem arising, and you should be checking on the progress of your communication strategy within 48 to 72 hours.
Remember, the rules, and therefore the protocol, for crisis communications have evolved with the rise of social media and the internet. The news does not "cycle" as much as it churns in a constant maelstrom of information, images and soundbites moving at lightning speeds and saturating audiences. That doesn't mean that there's no hope. That just means you have to increase your responsiveness and targeted PR and diligently follow the guidelines of crisis communications.