Media is an opportunistic beast. Opponents to government regulations, inspections and enforcement of regulations have made a fine art of "managing" the "PR Disaster". Many companies large and small have public relations firms on retainers to protect them from the ripple effects of bad media including new and tougher regulation, victim lawsuits and loss of profits. Advocacy groups must prepare for the crisis the same way our opponents do. They run drills that focus on limiting liability, spinning the media and pushing the media on to the next story.
The environmental advocacy movement needs to develop strategies to capitalize on world events to focus media attention toward failures in policy, tough solutions and protections and the new angles that keep a story alive and relevant.
Read crisis communications literature?. deconstruct it. Build a plan to counter attack. When your river catches fire, when your fish float, when your community is exposed to toxins, when cheating and greed have sacrificed your security the responsible parties are going to be implementing crisis communication plans. At this moment, you can speak to the entire state or the nation. You can push for policy change and you can get peoples attention.
10 ways to make a story stick and counter opposition effort to move a story to the back page.
1. Focus on the history of the company, company leadership and their lobbyist that demonstrates the arrogance and "we know best" attitude. Show the public that they consistently claim superior knowledge on the issues. In the middle of a crisis the "we know best" will bite them on the reputation. It will undermine their ability to control the spin and strengthen efforts to push for third party review and management of the crisis clean up. (they hate that)
2. Force the CEO to be the spokesperson not the PR people. CEO's are not as good in front of the camera and in the public eye. If the CEO is not around beat the drum of the "train without a conductor". Force the CEO to run press conferences and take questions. Ask about lobby efforts to undermine public security, personal pay, people that they fired over environmental management failures rather than profit loss.
3. Ask for all the information that you ever wanted. Ask for information they would not want to disclose. Ask lots of questions. Nothing makes a story stick like a "no comment" or a slow release of information. "no comment" sound bites are as good as "I'm guilty" to a lot of the public.
4. Draw the story out. Do not let opponents sweep the story to yesterday's news. Continue to look for new angles and new messengers.
5. Demand recognition of fault and public disclosure of all damage findings and settlements. (The legal teams hate this) The offending parties often lock down findings and hold results of tests as part of a legal case. The lawyers will advise the company not to admit guilt. It is a great opportunity to put the pressure on the offending party to come clean and help the victims win fair compensation down the road. It creates huge tension between the legal and PR teams as they try to control the situation.
6. Start a "never forget" campaign that can serve the victims and push for meaningful legislation to prevent the trouble in the future.
7. Find and highlight opposition failures on three levels. Look at the long-term mismanagement , the systematic incompetence and the moral failure to manage dangerous products. In the wake of the crisis most PR strategies try to move everyone on to the next problem by focusing on peoples belief that the company has been doing it for a long time responsibly, they tap into peoples belief that the system must be in place to address such problems and that most company leadership are probably "good guys". A good attack plan should highlight the realities that many of our dangerous polluters are consistently failing to protect the public.
8. Focus on the lack of compassion at every opportunity. How are the clear cutters that create landslides indifferent to those killed in the wake of their work? How are communities? devastated by the smells of giant feedlots? The lack of compassion for people demonstrates the need that the government need to protect the public not the heartless businesses that are profiting from the misery they create.
9 Have a crisis attack drill. Who talks? What are the bills that can move in the wake of certain disasters? (love Canal = superfund, Enron=accounting reform, kidnapping = amber alert) Can the team respond to the demand of the intense news cycle?
10. Make crisis response work a priority. It is difficult to respond to every whim of the media but remember most significant change can occur during times of chaos. The opposition knows they are most venerable during these events yet often groups do not have the plans to respond. In today?s' tight media cyclones you do not have 3-12 months to get funding and programs in place to push an agenda. You need to think of entire campaigns that last six days.