via The Columbus Dispatch : Given all the public-relations flubs and faux pas in the news this year, it might be hard to believe that there are plenty of people who actually specialize in steering businesses, individuals and organizations through tough times in the media spotlight.
Marcy Fleisher, a former reporter for WBNS-TV, founded Team Fleisher Communications in 2003. Hers is among nearly two-dozen central Ohio public-relations firms that specialize in a field called crisis communications.
Q: If I’m a politician who’s involved in a scandal or the head of a business that’s in the middle of a product recall, why would I need to hire someone to get me through it?
A: If you’re going through a personal crisis — if you’re sick — you surround yourself with professionals who are going to counsel you on how to battle it, how to come out of it in one piece. To me, it’s very similar. I don’t expect the CEO of an assisted nursing organization to know how to deal with four reporters at her door asking questions. It’s really not in her bandwidth. I think it’s only smart to find someone who can provide professional counsel.
Q: Is this all spin?
A: We don’t look for some sort of sneaky way to avoid (the truth). I don’t. One of the first things we say when we engage with someone is either we’re going to handle this openly and honestly or this is probably not the right engagement for us to help you with. I won’t lie to a reporter. I won’t. I’m not suggesting that other people do, but having been on the other side, I can’t. I won’t.
Q: You worked with Methodist Eldercare Services in 2013 as it dealt with an outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease at its facility in Reynoldsburg. How did you handle communications during that crisis?
A: We put in place a plan every day. There was a communication that was sent to each of those target audiences (residents, families, staff and media), and they were unique. We sent them out every morning at 10:30, first to residents and staff. Our concern was someone who worked there might leave at the end of the day and pass on information that might be inaccurate. … As soon as you start telling people what they want to know, the level of crisis eases a little.
Q: One of the more notable business crises in central Ohio in recent years involved Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams’ 2015 product recall. You weren’t involved in that event, but how do you think they handled communications?
A: I sent out an e-blast at the time praising Jeni’s. Part of the story became how well they handled it, communicating on social media. The good rapport they built with their customers beforehand helped them. It’s a good case study. Probably someone will write it for the Harvard Business Review.
Q: Are you or clients ever tempted to just say, ‘No comment’?
A: If you don’t know something, tell people, ‘We don’t know. Here are the steps we’re taking to figure this out.’ We didn’t know where the outbreak was. We didn’t want to pretend that we did. … A reporter’s goal is not a ‘gotcha.’ I know everyone thinks of the media these days as being adversarial. But in the case of a crisis, especially, they should be your friends.
Q: How is the response shaped by legal concerns?
A: At some point, when it’s a true crisis, a lawyer becomes involved. … With many crisis communication engagements, when we’re creating how we’re going to communicate, whether it’s an ‘e-blast’ or a tweet or a Facebook post or a news release, it’s reviewed by an attorney. And we don’t always see eye to eye. An attorney’s going to be super-conservative and very careful, and they’re worried about future lawsuits. I’m most worried about being honest and forthright and good communication. I’ve had things crossed out by attorneys, definitely.
Q: Do clients usually go with your advice, or do they listen to the attorneys?
A: (To the lawyers) 100 percent; I’m overruled.