What you do in the first 60 minutes, or the Golden Hour, often determines whether your event remains manageable or erupts into a full-blown crisis, Crisp Thinking’s head of PR and Content, Julia Ruane, told a Crisis Communications conference audience.
"The term, ‘the Golden Hour’, originates back to World War Two when the surgical medical teams discovered that if you didn’t treat a wounded patient within the first hour they were more likely to bleed to death. So in PR terms, you have an hour to put a plan in place that gives you the best possible chance of surviving a crisis" said Ruane.
Ruane and her co-speaker Emma Monks, head of Trust and Safety at Crisp, then ran through the wrong and right ways of dealing with a potential crisis.
Download Crisp’s ‘How to Use Social Media for Better Crisis Management’ report here
A ‘best case’ Golden Hour
"’Event zero’ happens – a harmful tweet, Facebook post, a product recall, a damming online news article. In the ‘best case’ scenario, you’ll be aware of this within minutes thanks to your monitoring service which has escalated the problem to you directly", said Ruane. "Now, because you have a pre-prepared crisis management plan in place… you are off.
"After 20 minutes, say, the first journalist gets in touch. After 30 minutes it starts to take off on social media. In fact, a new crisis has taken off because an influencer has got involved and brought up an older issue – but that’s okay, because you have a team in place keeping you up-to-date so you’re prepared to deal with this thanks to your crisis management plan" she said.
"Meanwhile, because your plan has a CEO on board, he has now issued a statement that has been distributed on social media and everyone has been informed of the correct brand message. Which means when your first media coverage comes out, although it might be negative, it incorporates your brand messaging and so the impact is softened. Which means by the end of this ‘best case’ first hour things are under control" said Ruane.
Letting the Golden Hour melt away
Monks, then presented how not to handle the first hour of a crisis.
"Event zero happens and the crisis has begun. Unfortunately, you have a crisis management system that just sends emails to someone’s inbox, and they’re on holiday! That means that, when you get your first media call it’s the first anyone from your PR team has heard of the situation and you’re already on the back foot.
"Soon after, influencers start commenting on social media, five minutes later it’s going viral and now the news media are reporting on the story and presenting it in an incredibly negative way. The CEO is finally called 50 minutes after the event and he is now facing a full-blown crisis," said Monks. "Today is not going to be a good day."
"Where did it go wrong?" asked Ruane. "What were the main differences between the best case and worst case scenarios? Well, knowing about the issue fast was crucial. Getting an alert to an inbox is not a proper warning. To be sure of staying on top of what’s happening you need a crisis management service that will make absolutely sure you are aware. Even if it is 5am and you’re not awake yet." Ruane then set out the five golden principles of how to handle the Golden Hour:
The Golden Principles of the Golden Hour
- Communicate what you know as soon as you know it. Get on top of the main facts quickly, be clear what people are already saying and get a statement out as soon as possible saying that you are looking into an issue.
- Stick to the facts. Try to avoid an emotional element at this stage.
- Set out your actions, and stick to them. Consistency of approach is very important.
- Find out what's actually going on. What the consequences are and who within the organisation needs to be involved.
- Keep communicating. Try to ride the wave, but don’t get swallowed by it. Regular intel is incredibly important here.
Case study: The tale of two airlines
In this scenario there are two airlines, both with fatalities on board. In both cases the story was immediately picked up on social media by fellow passengers and the story quickly escalated.
"However, airline No1 made a knee-jerk decision in response sparking a whole new crisis. By the time the airline does issue an apology the general response from the public is negative" said Monks.
"Airline No2 on the other hand had an emergency response programme in place and the CEO releases a video quickly. It’s full of empathy and the response is really well received."
Ruane said: "In the case of Airline No1 the passenger was a dog. The airline reacted by banning all pet travel, which had huge consequences and sparked a new crisis. They didn’t put their customers at the forefront of their communications and the story went viral in large part due to a passenger who started tweeting. "The woman didn’t have a million followers but she knew how to get the story out there," said Ruane.
This was compounded by the airline failing to make a statement. "There wasn’t a comment on the company Twitter feed or website for eight days after the incident happened. "The only way the public knew, was through the news and social media," said Monks.
"Airline No2 on the other hand involved a human fatality. Despite the serious nature of the incident, the public opinion of the airline was generally pretty positive afterwards because of the way they dealt with the situation. They issued the first statement an hour after the incident along with a video from the CEO. He displayed huge amounts of empathy, acknowledged the accident had occurred immediately and came across as authentically remorseful," said Ruane.
How risky is risk?
Ruane admitted that not every PR professional is going to have to deal with fatalities or other such serious crises, but stressed every PR will face their own issues because of potentially damaging content.
Monks then set out Crisp’s take on the five core risks that can quickly become online PR issues.
- Activism attacks - It’s rare that a brand that doesn't suffer a form of activist attack. At Crisp we see deliberate targeting of brands - often coordinated to maximise the impact - on a range of issues, such as diversity campaigning.
- Self-induced issues - These can be really damaging and occur when an employee or brand representative posts something they shouldn’t – either by mistake or on purpose. This happens far more frequently than you’d imagine.
- Curveball crises – These are crises often triggered by an external event, which you couldn’t possibly predict despite all your best planning, but which you do need to be prepared for anyway.
- The ‘disgusted from Tunbridge Wells’ issues – this is when social media allows a single angry customer to go viral. This is often compounded by the fact that a brand has a disconnect between its PR and customer care teams
- Influencer issues - These can either be criticisms or praise from an influencer (related or unrelated to your brand), but it’s important they’re not ignored. It’s an unusual risk but you don’t want to miss the huge PR opportunity that comes when an influencer makes a positive comment about your brand!
"And then we have the 1% of risks, or the things that nobody thinks is ever going to happen but actually do – such as terrorism and building security threats. Certain sectors are most at risk to this threat, such as airlines, commercial property outlets and well-known landmarks," said Monks.
Ruane rounded up the session by reiterating the importance of planning and preparing for the worst case scenarios.
"You need to look everywhere for risks: social media, owned platforms, review sites, non-owned platforms, the dark web and messaging apps," said Ruane. "Our advice is be prepared, expect the unexpected and have the plans and actions in place so that if a crisis does occur you can react in time."
To learn more about how you can use social media for better communications management, read Crisp’s ‘How to Use Social Media for Better Crisis Management’ report here.