Holly Carter, President and CEO of Fresno, California-based Carter & Co. Ag Communications Inc. offered these helpful tips for crisis communications planning:

Get comfortable with media

Understanding how to react to the media in the face of a crisis begins with comprehending basic media terminology and having an understanding of how the media works.

That might be as simple as knowing the difference between a media advisory, which alerts the media to an impending event or announcement, and a press release, which provides detailed information about the event or announcement, complete with quotes from company officials.

Use social media to your advantage

In the midst of a public relations crisis, social media can be an effective tool, if used correctly.

“Social media has changed things for the good for agriculture,” Carter said, adding that it provides the industry “a voice and a narrative that we never had before.”

“I think it has been helpful and it has shed a light on some of the misnomers about ag and we’ve been able to organize through social media across the country, and even throughout the world.”

You don’t have to have all the answers

Carter said she frequently hears from clients who believe that they are inadequately prepared to deal with a crisis situation because they don’t have every component of a crisis-management plan in place.

“The whole planning component really overwhelms people, and it is overwhelming because it sort of feels like if I don’t have it all done … then I shouldn’t even start. It’s all or nothing,” Carter said. “What I always try to tell them is that even if you have a media list for your region or any area where your footprint is, that’s a great start. We’re never going to be completely there because this is a dynamic industry in a dynamic, ever-changing world, so we’re constantly going to be growing and updating and evolving.” 

Select a spokesperson

Before a crisis arises, tap a company spokesperson, and make sure that person has received the proper training to field calls from the media and to speak publicly under pressure under intense scrutiny.

The spokesperson should not be the president or CEO, because a misspeak could leave the company’s top official in a tenuous position.

“If there is some kind of a poor reaction to whatever your messaging is, you can readjust and then your CEO can come in and say ‘Here’s what we were really trying to say,’” Carter said.

Practice it

No one wants to think about their company being in the midst of a crisis, but the companies that perform best under pressure are the ones that simulate crisis scenarios during the good times.

“What would you do if something went wrong, and who are the reporters who would be most likely to cover it if something did happen?” Carter said. “Also, look at your competitors. What are they doing and how are they communicating? Where are you seeing stories about them? Also, learn from their mistakes so you don’t repeat them.”

To read more about Crisis Communication Planning read "Crisis communication plan should be standard operating procedure". 

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