In the last decade, we have seen a lot of striking and political dissention around the country; from the university students and their professors striking to political entities breaking away, the Bokamoso Hospital saga and, presently, the worker strikes at our prized Diamond Trading Company Botswana.
These are all entities that operate at a local and international level and must uphold a stellar image in the eyes of the world. How then do they repair the damage created by negative publicity caused by internal dissention that result in strikes and rumours that surround the incidences because, as the adage goes, “where there is smoke, there is fire”.
What are the best ways to quell bad press, especially since we live in times where the dissemination of information, particularly bad press, travels faster than the speed of light through the Internet, cell phones and other mediums?
This is when corporate communications and PR personnel join forces to quell bad press. This is the time when a representative, who is either a Corporate Communications or PR personnel or combination, emerges as the guard dog for the company.
We have seen this particularly with the DTCB corporate communications manager, speaking on behalf of his company in newspapers and on television and with other entities, either giving interviews on radio or sending out press releases and public announcements as with Bokamoso Hospital.
Generally speaking, when we talk about PR, we talk about the company’s image and the publicity that impacts the perception the market holds about its image and how the company communicates within its internal structure and with its potential business partners and clients.
Corporate Communications, just like PR, is also concerned with the business-to-business (B2B) relationship and the employee-corporation relationship. As much as it is concerned with its internal audience and non-media aspects, it is as indebted to its external stakeholders such as, investors, and customers and must ensure that nothing disrupts this relationship.
In light of the happening lately in the country, ‘what to do’?
Some organizations hire PR, marketing or communications personnel who are able to play a variety of roles, which require different levels of knowledge and must be versatile and flexible in the implementation of the PR and communication tactics to fend off the bad press.
Note that in a crisis, both the internal and external audience must be addressed. That is, the employees as well as the investors and stakeholders must be kept abreast with the happenings daily.
As a rule, the PR/Communications agent in the face of a crisis must have a strategic plan with objectives and the expected outcomes. This allows for a controlled approach to dealing with the crisis in the face of the media, staff and the public. The plan should be used to:
ÔÇó Communication to staff and the media must be done quickly and effectively through various channels such as, phone, e-mail, briefing meetings, notice boards, over coffee or lunch, media articles, press releases, news alerts, editorials and newsletters, to name a few, to inform the press, staff and the public on any new developments, activities and plans
ÔÇó Track and monitor all media, it is important the agent is abreast with what the media is saying about the organization both good and bad. This is also a good gauging point of how the company is perceived through the eyes of the media vis-├á-vis what it should be.
ÔÇó Information meant for the press must be written in a form that prevents information distortion and they must ensure that all information is supported by fact.
ÔÇó All information disseminated must be current and relevant. No stale news.
ÔÇó Ensure that all information given covers the five (5) ‘W’s. Who, Why, What, Where and When (and How where applicable)
ÔÇó Ensure that all printed information supplied is proofread for typographical errors, grammar etc, before it is sent out.
ÔÇó Analyze articles after submissions to evaluate how the information has been used or how they can improve on the submissions. This will give a better understanding of each media’s approach and style to the information supplied.
ÔÇó Respond to enquiries from the media in a timely fashion. If you delay, they become suspicious and rumours begin to fly.
The foundation of a good public relations and communications plan is to develop strong ties with key media houses via news editors and authoritative journalists and photographers who will distribute all communication from the organisation. This co-dependency works in both parties’ favour, where the organization needs a channel to disseminate information and the media requires content for its audience.
Thus, when there is a crisis, there will be the tendency for the media to respond in an objective manner that doesn’t aim to hurt the company’s image and reputation.
At the end of the day, the desired outcome of having a PR and Communication plan is to build the company’s product and service credibility, manage and enhance the company’s reputation and investor confidence, manage crisis, build intellectual reputation and awareness, communicate company messages and values, make and find opportunities to interact effectively with the target market and facilitate strategic and effective networking in the face of adversity or not.