It always seems self-serving when I recommend that an outside consultant is needed during a crisis communications situation.
Let me back up a beat. First of all, the MOST IMPORTANT thing for a crisis or challenging situation is to have a plan in place in advance. That’s most important.
I have a video clip that talks about the importance of having a plan in advance, and why outside consultants should be considered.
See Crisis Communications Video.
An outside consultant or agency helps add a dose of objective realism. It may be difficult for internal staff to see the whole picture objectively, as an outsider would.
When you work at a company, you are part of that company’s family--no matter how good you are at work/life balance! Thus, when something happens that may be upsetting, those in-house are emotionally involved and are not necessarily in the best position to either make objective, critical decisions and/or may need help in carrying out everything in the plan.
What is important when you bring in an outside consultant to help, is to define who is going to be the “quarterback” of communications. Control should always be firmly in the hands of the organization, but the outside consultants should become an integral part of the crisis team. The agency or consultant should play an advisory role while the organization makes the final decisions.
If you are working with an outside public relations agency or consultant, it is important to keep them on retainer so that you have their expertise available to you with the additional people power that can be brought to bear quickly in a crisis. By having them involved early on, it will help your ability to deal quickly with the media should a crisis occur. If a retainer relationship is not possible, bring in an outside consultant before a crisis occurs so that the company benefits from the preplanning expertise of the consultant, ideally to the extent of avoiding a crisis in the first place.
Discuss with the consultant or agency, in advance, such things as what resources they can make available, what media contacts they have, what they would charge in a crisis situation (by the hour, day or crisis), who exactly will be working with you (what level of seniority), and can they work on-site?
The downside of bringing in external help is the morale of your current communications staff (feeling discredited or unappreciated) and the perception of your external audiences that may indeed be an even bigger crisis than they imagined since you are soliciting outside assistance. (Consequently, a prior relationship with any outside sources is important so this perception does not exist).
SEE WHY MARY RECOMMENDS OUTSIDE CONSULTANTS FOR CRISIS COMMUNICATIONS—and more on the importance of having a plan prepared in advance…