Crisis Avoidance & Management
In addition to promotional press, we need to ensure readiness to address potential crises such as product recalls, controversies, or misinterpretation of our core messages. This requires that we come up with a formal emergency plan—in advance. The plan identifies the proper spokesperson depending on the type of event, and outlines the strategy and approach (do we admit, correct or deflect, how soon should we respond, etc.). In creating this plan, it is important to consider the overall corporate crisis management plan (if you are part of a larger corporation).
A special crisis management training and review session should be delivered to the company or department by either an internal or external PR professional as part of ongoing PR initiatives.
There are numerous examples of companies that needed to have a crisis management plan. For example, when I was at DCA, the 5th largest software company, we shipped thousands of boxes of CrossTalk to our distributors–then found out the disks had a virus. We had to destroy all the packages.
While publishing Netscape, we discovered several layers down within the install CD that the ENTIRE company product roadmap was in a spreadsheet. Fortunately, it was so deep and so few people even look at the CDs once the product is installed, that we decided not to recall anything (good thing, it would have been over 100,000 boxes!).
At one of the hardware companies I worked at, we found out our set-top box could catch fire (or at least smoke up the house) since several capacitors were put in backward within an early batch–they were quickly recalled and fixed.
One of the most well-known examples of a PR mistake within high tech was with Intel when their chip had a rounding error and they tried to cover it, rather than address it. Another was with Apple when their iPhone had reception problems if held a certain way.
Some of these examples were handled well, others were disasters. Regardless, it is best to consider how you might address these in advance–so the team can react quickly when the crisis hits and minimize damages.