Navigate Any PR Crisis: 5 Pitfalls for Nonprofits to Avoid

first_imgIn the early 1980s, Johnson & Johnson faced a massive organizational crisis when someone laced Extra-Strength Tylenol caplets with cyanide and returned the bottles to store shelves. When the Tylenol link was discovered, the company sprang into action, spending millions to remove pills from stores, communicating its efforts to consumers via the media, and helping to pioneer tamper-resistant packaging that ultimately reduced similar crimes in the future.What does this story have to do with your nonprofit? It’s a great example of effective organizational crisis management: act quickly and decisively, communicate consistently and honestly, and apply lessons learned to prevent future situations. The key is to be prepared for whatever life throws in your direction. But sometimes our plans go awry amid the chaos. Here are five common pitfalls that can derail your nonprofit’s efforts to guide communications during a PR crisis.Slow or no response. Like an ostrich with its head in the sand, you simply hope the problem will go away on its own. Or your team gets stuck trying to find consensus before taking action. By the time you’re ready to respond, days or weeks have gone by and your organization is in a heap of trouble. Solution: Control the message before someone else does. Be prepared with your crisis communications plan and respond quickly.Ill-prepared spokesperson. You task a key senior executive with handling media outreach, but once she starts getting peppered with hard questions, you find she’s not nearly as prepared for the hot seat as you had assumed. Solution: Take nothing for granted. Test your spokesperson ahead of time. Sit down with that person and fire tough questions at her quickly and relentlessly until she can deliver your organization’s message calmly and consistently. Legal concerns. In the midst of the storm, you have to wait for your legal team before taking action. This slows you down tremendously and potentially derails your entire organization. Solution: Have ample conversations with your legal team during your crisis communications prep. What might they need to do or approve? Where would they need to step in? You’ll avoid disastrous delays if you can agree to operating procedures and best practices in advance.Inconsistency or lack of transparency. Your market doesn’t believe your message or find it credible because they’re hearing different things across channels, which makes your nonprofit seem less than honest. Solution: As the crisis wears on, you’ll continue to get tough questions from every corner, so you need to hunker down and ensure you’re delivering a consistent and honest message, whether it’s on television, in print, or on your website and social media channels.Failure to take responsibility. Do you take responsibility? Do you apologize? Similar to being slow to respond, if you fail to address these questions, you’ll extend the news cycle. Solution: From the beginning, own the problem (or, if you didn’t create it, explain clearly how the problem arose) and communicate how your organization is addressing it. Again, be consistent and honest in your message.A final bit of advice: Fix it yourself first.Some crises will be imposed on you externally, out of the blue, and you’ll need to react with your readymade communications plan. But others you might avoid—if you take action now. If you see anything in your organization that doesn’t seem quite right or could create a bit of drama, talk among your team about how you can fix it yourself before external forces make you fix it. Adapted from the Nonprofit 911 webinar “Crisis Communications for Nonprofits” with Susan Kearney, COO of Network for Good. Download the full webinar.last_img

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