Freddy Kreuger
Freddy Kreuger
Freddy Kreuger

Whether you’re watching Freddy Krueger or an Alfred Hitchcock movie, there’s a typical 4-step approach that filmmakers take to scaring you half to death:

  1. Life is good (the sun is shining)
  2. Tension builds (can’t you hear the music?)
  3. Tension reduces (your stomach muscles just about fully relax)
  4. Disaster quickly strikes (you scream)

There’s nothing wrong about screaming during a movie, even though you should have:

  1. Seen the disaster coming
  2. Anticipated that it would strike
  3. Get prepared

While you won’t be beheaded at the end of a P.R. disaster, as a character could in a movie, you could lose your reputation, client, job, business or even the ability to continue making money. Pretty terrifying.

Now, let’s assume that you, your company or your client is involved in something that’s controversial, inappropriate, dangerous, stupid or even illegal.

The story quickly grows into a disaster when an allegation is made via social media, given credibility by newspapers and then mishandled. Typically:

  1. Most allegations could have been predicted, but weren’t.
  2. The story (tension) builds while the accused tries to avoid the issue.
  3. The story (tension) keeps building until the accused feels forced to make a poorly thought-through denial or weak apology.
  4. The tension eases momentarily, while the “subject” believes they’ve skated past the potential disaster.
  5. The story (tension) surprisingly explodes since the press is now looking for blood. (I couldn’t resist tying closely back to the horror movie premise.)

Understanding this sequence, you had better:

  1. Understand that “bad” news will become public. Spend time and resources being paranoid. Make a list of actions that could be controversial.
  2. See the potential terror that’s coming your way. Ask, What would each of my actions look like on 60 Minutes?
  3. Work hard to try to avoid a disaster. Of course, doing what’s right is the best way to avoid a disaster. It also helps to build a reputation of doing business honestly, having a good place to work and helping your customers.
  4. Prepare for the disaster to strike you as hard as a Friday the 13th climax. Prepare your crisis team and plan. Take each of the potential controversies you identified and prepare white papers supporting why these are positive, and communicate your story in advance.

Remember, everyone in the movie theater knew someone was going to be killed, but no one ever thought it would be them. In a business public relations disaster, there are always victims.

About Richard Sellers

Richard is Chairman Emeritus of the Marketing Executives Networking Group, founder of Demand Marketing consulting firm, and former Sr. VP of Marketing for three multi-billion dollar companies: CEC, WLP, and Service Merchandise. His early career was at GE, P&G, Playtex, and Marketing Corporation of America. He’s also a volunteer counselor for SCORE assisting small businesses in upstate New York. You can follow his communications about marketing, job search and careers here and at mengonlineENTREPRENEURS QUESTIONS, and on Twitter at @Sellers_Richard.



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