In attempting to guide an organization out of crisis, you’re never just one interview away. You’re never just one email away. You’re never just one op-ed away. You’re never just one “positive news story” away. You’re never just one tactic away from recovering from a crisis.
I hope that’s the takeaway from the keynote presentation, “Reputation Recovery,” I was privileged to give at last week’s “Age Of Polarization” conference on the campus of Central Michigan University, an impressive event organized by student members of the CMU PRSSA, in collaboration with the professional members of the White Pine Chapter of the PRSA. The conference touched on many of the most important challenges in today’s public relations business.
Taking this opportunity to share with a wider audience what I shared in person, recovering from a crisis takes an organized campaign. It requires a different mindset. Organizations must be in a different mode, led by PR, but shared within the entire organization. Crisis recovery happens incrementally, providing proof to audiences over and over again, in multiple different ways, that trust will be re-earned, mistakes will be corrected and a new course is being charted. That simply will not happen with a “check the one box” approach.
United Airlines is a recent case in point. Two weeks after the pulled-from-the-plane incident, United remains, at best, in a fragile reputational state. Its CEO, in the wake of the crisis, did a grand total of one TV interview. It was on Good Morning America, a show that can reach between 4-5 million viewers on TV and, and probably a large fraction of that online. But United flew more than 100 million passengers last year. How many of them saw that one interview? Or have been exposed to the company’s messaging at all?
A few years ago, I was working with a membership organization in crisis, which was damaged from the inside out. It would take months, at least, of open conversation for any healing to occur. A couple of board members called me one day and said “We know what we need to do. We’re working on an email.” I explained to them that with so much damage done, they are not just one email away from solving their problem. It would take a campaign, over time, to be able to move on from the crisis, which it ultimately did.
Just like in our individual lives, when something goes wrong, we need to reallocate time and priorities in order to fix it. A company or organization is no different. It takes effort, resources and teamwork to be able to work through and past tough times.