December 28th has the fracking industry scared. Just three days after Christmas, Matt Damon’s new feature “Promised Land” will open and continue a discussion regarding the controversial energy gathering process and its impact on small town America. The film has already been identified by fracking supports as a potential powder keg and the energy industry’s publicity machine is busy planning its response.
Contrary to a common misconception, “bad publicity” can be seen or anticipated months in advance. However with proper preparation these crises can be either diffused or significantly weakened.
My first experience handling a long-lead crisis came while heading the media relations for a large nonprofit that just lost more than 25 percent of its endowment and was facing significant layoffs and facility closures over the next year. Since then I have used that experience to calmly work through public crises and with minor damage.
Identify and Discuss
Once you have an inkling of a pending crisis, you need to bring the appropriate players together to discuss likely and worst case scenarios. Raise concerns and ensure that everyone is heard. If the threat is credible, begin working through various forms that it could take and possible solutions. This is the time to put every idea on the table and think through all possible outcomes.
After identifying the possible scenarios, both likely and unlikely, you can begin drafting messaging for each of them. This process will help you think through the implications of each statement or action you plan to take. Ensure that the proper departments review this information, sharing proposed plans of action and messaging only with trusted individuals that will not exacerbate the situation.
Understand that you are going out on a limb if you decide to strike first. The fracking industry is already underway announcing their plans to market against the Damon movie and educate the public regarding its business ahead of the film’s release. This can be a dangerous move since the movie has not been screened and public opinion is not yet available. Early efforts can pay off, however they also raise the profile of the film and the subject matter, giving it a longer shelf life for discussion. The counter-argument is that this industry cannot afford to lose another battle and needs to soften the ground in what they see as a continuous war of information and debunking of myths.
Use you prepped scenarios and strategies to acclimate to the evolving dialogue. By creating messaging and tactics for various scenarios you will not have to spend as much precious time adapting to new attacks. Proper preparation allows you to respond quickly and give the perception that you are transparent and knowledgeable.
Acceptance of Reality
Throughout this process you and your team should accept that bad publicity almost always leaves a stain on your brand. By understanding this likely outcome early on it can release some of the emotional pressure and set expectations throughout your team that success will include taking some hits along the way. Never promise a miracle.
Are you in the middle of a crisis and in need of some help? Check out more tips.
Have you ever worked a long-lead crisis? Share your experiences in the comments section below.