When Silent During Crises, Businesses Cede Their Fate to Public Opinion

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Businesses that maintain silence and avoid confronting a crisis risk having the court of public opinion choose their fate. JOTO PR Disruptors explains how taking the proactive approach of filling every available communications channel with proactive messaging, including positive news content and solutions, will help overcome negativity stemming from communication vacuums and ultimately determine businesses’ survival.

Communication is vital in any PR crisis.

Businesses need to know that they must rise above the noise of the bad news and fill the vacuum on proactive, and innovative solutions to ‘out-create’ the negativity.

This year, we’ve been coping with a global health pandemic, a national economic shutdown, and social unrest in cities large and small—three simultaneous crises that have put immense pressure on businesses and organizations to engage audiences more frequently and with more content. However, a recent survey found that nine out of ten in-house communication leaders experienced regular challenges with content creation.(1) It’s crucial that communications during crises be handled with different, yet consistent messaging. “Businesses need to know that they must rise above the noise of the bad news and fill the vacuum on proactive, and innovative solutions to ‘out-create’ the negativity,” says Karla Jo Helms, Chief Evangelist and Anti-PR Strategist for JOTO PR Disruptors. “Get on every channel of communication that will carry your message. Communication is life. ‘No communication’ is death.”

Recent crises have inspired organizations to handle communications themselves but have seen their efforts rapidly spinning out of control, such as CrossFit founder and CEO Greg Glassman’s now infamous tweets regarding George Floyd. (2) Other examples of failed messaging during past PR crises can give insight into what went wrong in organization’s communications and the resulting PR nightmares:

  • After two Boeing 737s crashed within months of each other, instead of addressing the problem, the aircraft maker treated the tragedies like disgruntled customers, insisting there was no problem with their planes. They ultimately left their message up to public opinion. Boeing lost orders from airliners, and its stock price and revenue saw a tremendous drop. (3)
  • Facebook confronted immense public distrust after it was revealed the social media giant was allowing fake accounts to spread misinformation during the 2016 presidential election. Facebook also sold user data to outside groups for political research. Their first public comments said they were going to do nothing for the sake of free speech. They may have protected advertiser revenue in the move, but they sacrificed their integrity and trustworthiness. (4)
  • Apple was slow to respond to the discovery of a bug in their Facetime app’s software that allowed callers to listen in on people they called. Apple’s initial lack of crisis communication gave the media plenty of time to amplify the story. (5)

“People naturally mess up communication in a crisis when they do it on their own”, Helms elaborates. “Everything you would normally do to defend your reputation when personally attacked is frequently the very opposite thing to do when managing the court of public opinion. Crisis management is governed by certain communication laws… don’t make the mistake you can ‘handle it yourself’ or ‘ride it out’. You will fail.”

Boeing, Facebook, and Apple, all giants in their respective industries, are still subject to these communication laws. Instead they chose inaction and paid the price in reduced revenue, sullied reputation, and the loss of the public’s trust. They became part of news cycles that could have been spreading very different messages had they taken their crisis to the professionals. Regarding the media’s role in these crises, Helms further states, “Their job is to report the news. So, make the news. Don’t wait on them to report it. Give them news to report.”

Also consider the internal team. Excessive exposure to outside negativity can unduly influence team members’ attitudes, leading to troubles. Therefore, first sequestering off the negativity monitoring to a specific hat will keep team members focused and helping to meet a common goal rather than the bad news. Helms concludes, “Everyone in the company has a ‘crisis hat’ during a crisis. Times like these are no different.”

Helms recommends not just more communication, but a purposeful, strategic communications plan that has a message that stands the test of time. “The size of your communication reach and the volume of messaging to it will determine your survival—revenues, goodwill, sales, and more,” she said.

About JOTO PR Disruptors™ 
After doing marketing research on a cross-section majority of 5,000 CEOs of fast-growth trajectory companies and finding out exactly how they used PR, how they measure it, and how they wanted the PR industry to be different, PR veteran and innovator Karla Jo Helms created JoTo PR and established its entire business model on those research findings. Astute in recognizing industry changes since its launch in 2009, JoTo PR’s team utilizes newly established patterns to create timely PR campaigns comprising both traditional and the latest proven media methods. This unique skill enables them to continue to increase the market share and improve return on investment (ROI) for their clients, year after year—beating usual industry standards. Based in Tampa Bay, Florida, JoTo PR is an established international public relations agency. Today, all processes of JoTo are streamlined PR services that have become the hallmark of the JoTo PR name. For more information, visit JoTo PR online at http://www.jotopr.com/ 

About Karla Jo Helms
Karla Jo Helms is the Chief Evangelist and Anti-PR Strategist for JoTo PR. She learned firsthand how unforgiving business can be when millions of dollars are on the line—and how the control of public opinion often determines whether one company is happily chosen, or another is brutally rejected.   Being an alumni of crisis management, Karla Jo has worked with litigation attorneys, private investigators and the media to help restore companies of goodwill back into the good graces of public opinion—Karla Jo operates on the ethic of getting it right the first time, not relying on second chances, and doing what it takes to excel.   Karla Jo has patterned her agency on the perfect balance of crisis management, entrepreneurial insight, and proven public relations experience. Ms. Helms speaks globally on public relations, how the PR industry itself has lost its way and how, in the right hands, corporations can harness the power of PR to drive markets and impact market perception. 

1.    Sims, Maja Pawinska, “Study: Most Comms Directors Are Experiencing ‘Content Chaos’”, Provokemedia.com, December 5, 2019, provokemedia.com/latest/article/study-most-comms-directors-are-experiencing-content-chaos
2.    Bentley, Daniel, “The fall of CrossFit founder and CEO Greg Glassman, who resigned after racist remarks”, Fortune.com, June 9, 2020, fortune.com/2020/06/09/crossfit-ceo-greg-glassman-resigns-founder-tweet-protests/
3.    Lewis, Morgan, “5 Biggest PR Fails of 2019”, acmarketingpr.com, January 29, 2020, acmarketingpr.com/5-biggest-pr-fails-2019/
4.    Feiner, Lauren, “Facebook learned about Cambridge Analytica as early as September 2015, new documents show”, CNBC.com, August 23, 2019, cnbc.com/2019/08/23/facebook-releases-new-cambridge-analytica-documents.html
5.    Perlroth, Nicole, “Apple Was Slow to Act on FaceTime Bug That Allows Spying on iPhones”, NYTimes.com, January 29, 2019, nytimes.com/2019/01/29/technology/facetime-glitch-apple.html

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