Young athletic man making an effort while jumping hurdles and looking at the camera.What will you do when something happens and it’s not “business as usual”?  You’re going to feel like you’re jumping hurdles… as soon as you’re over one, another one is right in front of you.  It’s exhausting!  Here are seven ideas for you to consider when your firm experiences some negative attention from a lawsuit, a client problem, an attack from a competitor, or something else unforeseen.

Develop a Strategy:  You’ll need to be stay nimble as the plan is bound to change.  But, knowing what you’ll do when X, Y, or Z happens can help you stay focused and calm (something we’ll talk more about later) when it actually happens.  This plan needs to be comprehensive and have action items depending on a wide variety of potential circumstances including what to do if a reporter calls your office.

Realize that you don’t control the timing:  Unlike with other messages, you don’t always control the timing in a crisis situation.  At any time a reporter can call for a quote or release a story without your involvement at all, a competitor or adversary can release a press release or call your clients, etc.  So, focus on what you can do, which is to remain aware of what is happening through tools like Google Alerts.  At least if you know what’s happening, you can follow or adapt your plan for what to do next.

All Hands on Deck:  Communicate with your entire team early and often. You might be hesitant to talk about what’s happening with your team, but they need to know.  A reporter calling is probably going to dial your receptionist. The receptionist (and backup receptionist!) needs to know not to answer any questions and to interrupt any meeting/call the CEO is in so the reporter can hear your side of the story.   Likewise, your staff needs to know what to say, or not to say, to clients if the topic comes up.   They also need to feel reassured that the company will weather this event.

Define your Audience:  Whatever the crisis is, it’s likely all-consuming to you.  Every waking moment it’s on your mind.  Therefore, it can be hard to think that not everyone will be aware or, or care, what’s happening.  And that’s OK.  But start making a list of people who do, or should, care, or who might hear about the issue from another source so that you can share your perspective.  This list should include people you know personally like clients, prospects, vendors, referral sources, industry leaders, and may also include people you don’t know like local or national press in your field or related fields.

Define your Message:  A while ago I wrote an article Have Big News? Manage the Message that’s also relevant here.  When defining your message, consider “What are the key take-away message points that we want people to remember and tell others if asked?”  You want to satisfy people’s concerns so they can focus beyond their own needs being met, point their attention toward the positive, and allow them to ask questions if appropriate.

Take the high road:  Your reputation took years to build.  Even when it takes nearly inhuman strength, stay classy!  That means you’re not going to be able to take that cheap shot that feels good in the moment.  As the adage goes “if you don’t have anything nice to say…”.  You’ll be tested on your ability to keep your mouth shut or your words sweet.  This means there can’t be any loan wolves sharing information or opinions that aren’t part of the company approved message.  A reporter can say “A company representative said…” about any member of your team.  And you can’t put the genie back in the bottle if you let your words slip.

Hire an expert:  “If you’re going through Hell, keep on going.”  Keep in mind that a tour guide might help you get through this terrible experience more quickly and with fewer burns.   It’s likely that you’re already under financial strain if attorneys have gotten involved.  I understand that you’ll be reticent to spend more money on what might seem optional.  Hire a PR agency to focus on maintaining your good reputation when it’s being dragged through the mud.   That way you can dust yourself off, and get back to business as usual.  You might even be glad for a “boring day in the office” for a change!

If you need help with, let me know!  I am not a PR expert, but I know some good ones and I’d be glad to make an introduction.

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Alison has more than ten years of professional services marketing and business development experience. She is a Double Eagle, holding both a BS in Management with concentrations in Marketing & Information Systems, and an MBA from Boston College. Alison is a member of the 2009 Boston Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 class of honorees. Visit Alison on Google+.