Sunday, September 15, 2013

The media is calling; how do you respond to PR crisis?

Sometimes, another organizations PR missteps are an opportunity to learn how not to handle a PR crisis.  Just ask the any of the hospitals and health systems that have been in the media the past few weeks with HIPAA violations for data beaches. And what I have seen from the healthcare consumer side in the coverage and their responses have been arrogance, apathy and really stupid responses by senior management.

I mean really, “We had a panic button and security camera.”  Does it matter in your response that the theft happened after hours?  Or the, “We had 60 days under the law before we had to report it.”  How do you think the public reads that answer of hiding behind regulations when their personal data is at stake?

In an age of healthcare model evolution from provider-dominated models of decision making to consumer-directed models, those bygone days of being able to mismanage a PR crisis and response and get away with it are gone.

Is your response to dive for under the desk? Do you send out poorly prepared underlings, to face reporters and the public? Does leadership, make proud pronouncements at the outset, that could come back to haunt you because at this point, you just don't know?   Do you react as an arrogant organization with the, "How dare you question us response"?   Do you think that it can never happen to you? Do you have a crisis communications plan in place?

Every healthcare organization will face a PR crisis. How you handle the communications, will determine the amount of brand damage and length of time people remember, the good and the bad.  In this age of social media and the Internet, there are no, "We just need to wait 3 days to weather the storm", anymore.

Many times organizations respond with:

·         Lack of organizational understanding of the need to handle a situation as crisis communications;
·         Different, conflicting senior management messages;
·         Testy responses to questions;
·         Lack of preparation by speakers in understanding the seriousness of the communication;
·         Poor speaker body language;
·         No overriding organizational message;
·         Organizational arrogance;
·         Lost messaging opportunity;
·         Appearance of blaming others;
·         The organization appearing not accountable;
·         The organization furthering to anger the media;
·         No response at all with the "it's just a three day story and will go away";
·         Sending out unprepared underlings to face the media;

Is it not true that any press is good press!  Every day, someone somewhere faces a crisis communications issue which is poorly handled.

By following these planning guides, you can weather any storm, limit reputation, revenue and ultimately brand image damage:

·         Understand the nature of the situation;
·         Be transparent;
·         Be proactive in how you intend to address the situation;.
·         Limit the amount of time senior leaders i.e. the CEO or president speak;
·         Make sure everyone has the same message and is on board;
·         Develop strong organizational messaging of care and concern;
·         Don’t scapegoat, blame others or give the appearance of blaming others;
·         Don’t tell people things will change when things are not changing;
·         Practice, practice, practice;
·         Bring in an outside PR firm for another viewpoint;
·         Understand that your reputation is built up over a long time and can be destroyed in a few short minutes;
·         Remember that it is not just a three day story;
·         Watch your body language;
·         Know your facts about past performance, reporters will be prepared;
·         Learn from others;
·         Each year engage in a day of media training for executives. Dealing with the media is a learned skill that the majority of executives do not have.  It is not as easy as it looks.

Most importantly, engage the media all the time all year round not just when you have a problem.  By establishing positive media relations with the good you do, you won't necessarily be cut any slack in a bad situation, but you will get the opportunity to tell your side.  You won't if you don't have good media relations already in place.

Plan now for that crisis communications event, and you will better off as a prepared healthcare organization.

Michael J. Krivich, MHA, FACHE, PCM, is an internationally followed healthcare marketing blogger with over 5,000 monthly pages views read in over 52 countries worldwide on Healthcare Marketing Matters. These views are my own. He is founder of the michael J group, a Fellow, American College of Healthcare Executives and a Professional Certified Marketer, American Marketing Association.  Like us on  facebook at the michael J group, and connect with me on LinkedIn and  Twitter.

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