by Matt Barkett

September 15, 2020

Why is it that hiring a PR firm during a crisis is often portrayed as a controversial decision?

If your company is being sued, it is customary—and totally appropriate—to hire a lawyer to defend your rights. If you get sick, you go see a doctor. If you want to build an addition to your home, you hire a licensed contractor.

But when it comes to a crisis that will inevitably gain media attention, it’s somehow taboo to get some advice on how to tell your side of the story.

When I have asked media about this over the years, I typically get an answer like, “you aren’t going to tell me the truth. I want the real story.” I chalk that opinion up to the fact that most reporters don’t understand what the job of a communications professional is, and when there’s a crisis, they assume that the company has done something wrong and wants to hide it. What’s interesting is that it couldn’t be further from the truth. Here’s a few reasons why:

1. We are here to do our jobs. As communications professionals, we are hired to help a company (or individual) explain what happened and do it in a way that is easy to understand. Of course, part of that is putting your best foot forward, but it’s certainly not about lying to cover up the pieces that you don’t want to share. Media will typically find out if you lie, and then coverage gets worse. Rule of thumb – don’t lie.

2. You can’t anticipate a crisis, but you can be prepared. The goal of crisis communications is to shorten the duration of a news cycle and protect your brand or reputation, not to extend the cycle and make the crisis worse. That’s why we do things like provide media training for executives, our goal is to adequately prepare your representative to answer the tough questions. Good, simple answers make for boring TV forcing the media to move on to more interesting content.

3. We know how to handle these situations. Communicating with the media during a crisis can be intimidating, but hiring a PR firm with media experience can be reassuring as a crisis unfolds and media descend. I’ve often heard lawyers talk about how they are actually happy when the opposition they face “lawyer up” because it takes the emotion out of the discussion and allows everyone to focus on the legal aspects of a negotiation. Maybe media should look at it similarly – PR professionals and media are speaking the same language – and both have the legitimate objective of telling an accurate story and making complicated concepts easier to understand for a broader audience.

In the end, balanced media coverage that offers multiple viewpoints serves all parties, from media, to companies and consumers. Bringing on competent communications counsel, even if it can be portrayed by media as a negative, can help organizations in crisis situations have a better chance at getting their story told well.

Interested in media training or getting ahead of a crisis? Feel free to reach out.