by Fawzy Zablah, Editor, Business Wire/Florida
Ever since “the father of modern public relations,” Ivy Lee, sent out what most consider the first press release following the 1906 Atlantic City train wreck, companies, individuals, governments and news agencies have participated in an unofficial competition to win what I call “the best told story contest.” It’s a race that is not won by the “best story” per se, but the victor is usually either the first to get there, truth-tellers, or the best re-arranger of reality. It’s a race that must be run whether you own a newly opened restaurant or a tech company.
Let’s travel to more modern times, and take as an example the most recent Blackberry outage issues which have turned out to be a PR nightmare for Research in Motion (RIM). During a crisis, a company should never have a slow response because it shows a lack of control over the situation. And even if the situation is not under control, your PR assault should always confidently be the first to storm the beach.
These days, companies need to be aware of how critical it is to have a quick line of communication with customers, whether through issuing press releases regarding recent events or via direct statements to the press. A company always has to appear like it’s in control as far as good PR is concerned, even if it isn’t. Ivy Lee knew that as soon as word got out of the Atlantic City train wreck, rumors would swirl, the story would grow legs of its own and it would no longer be his client’s story. That’s why the first rule of crisis management is to communicate. The beginning of the crisis is the most critical period, and it sets the tone for the rest of the incident.
So let’s finish this crisis management lesson with thoughts Ivy Lee espoused so long ago, and which are now a golden rule of PR: “Tell the truth, because sooner or later the public will find out anyway. And if the public doesn’t like what you are doing, change your policies and bring them into line with what people want.”
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