When The Food Network’s Southern cooking guru Paula Deen fell on her own sword during The Today Show I was actually on a family vacation at the beach. (Although I was basking in the sunshine and not near a TV I began getting tweets saying the rotund Savannah, Georgia chef needed MarketingMel’s Crisis Communications help!) So I popped up The Today Show interview on my laptop, watched with horror, and came up with the following hints for any client in crisis. Here’s what I would have urged Paula to do if she had been my client:
1- Have three (3) talking points and stick with them: People remember in threes. It’s an old writing and public speaking trick and it works. Example: I’m here to apologize, I’m here to make things right and I’m here to move forward. Then elaborate briefly on these.
2- Do NOT let the interviewer get you off track: Wow! Matt Lauer came out with guns ablaze but Paula should have been ready. After all she blew him off the week prior (see Bonus Tip.) However, you Paula, already have your three talking points prepared ahead and you will stick with them. Remember, the main thing’s the main thing! Stick with your key messages.
3- Show empathy: This is huge in any crisis. Someone or something is obviously hurt. Therefore show empathy to the one who has been “done wrong.” Example: “Years ago I made a mistake. Since that time I have ______ (fill in the blank to show how you have righted the wrong and you are now moving forward.) We’ve recently seen some politicians do this but guess what? At least two of them are back and running in New York City elections. If done right, the American people are pretty willing to accept a sincere apology. Last time I checked we all make mistakes.
Bonus Tip for Paula: Don’t blow off The Today Show the first time! You are a celebrity so your moves will be watched closely. Don’t arouse curiosity.
If you need help with your company’s crisis communications plan please contact me! I have years of experience, including my start in public relations in the nuclear industry, and would be glad to help you.