Imagine this scenario: You’re a PR pro deep into REM sleep on Christmas Eve. As you dream of flying through Paris on a dragon wearing a diaper for some reason, you hear a familiar ring. That sure sounds a lot like your cell phone…
You wake up groggy and answer your phone to the sound of your client, Santa Claus. By the sound of his tone, he’s definitely panicking.
“Grandma got run over by a reindeer!,” he shouts in a not-so-jolly tone.
Your inner monologue runs wild: Am I still dreaming? I thought my Christmas Eve dreams would involve more sugar plums than cherubic demigods screaming at me.
“…Wha… Whose grandma?,” you ask.
“I don’t know, but there’s hoof prints on her forehead and she smells like eggnog,” Santa says, “And not the virgin kind!”
No stranger to rum yourself, you reserve your judgment and think: Let’s not panic. You’ve trained for this!
It’s time for PR crisis communication mode.
Grandma got run over by a reindeer. This must happen all the time, right?! Now what…?
1. Get The Details
Play reporter. Try to get all of the details out of Santa as quickly as possible. Beyond the 5W’s (who, what, when, where, why and sometimes how), what was the scenario? Was Santa texting and sleighing? Did the reindeer accidentally eat fermented cranberries for dinner? Did grandma’s drunkenly slip or stumble in front of the sleigh?
Ask questions to determine your client’s liability and grandma’s liability. You’ll need the full story — good, bad and ugly — to spin it as needed.
2. Craft Your “Just in Case” Media Message
Fortunately for you, the media tends to be short-staffed on major holidays. That said, if they hear about an elderly woman getting run over by Kris Freaking Kringle himself, they will pull their news crew from literally any other story they might be covering that night.
Knowing that, you need to get ahead of the game. Craft a baseline media statement for your client with only the basics. That way, when the media inevitably comes sniffing around for comment, you’ll know exactly what to say.
And I cannot stress this enough — Keep. It. Simple. You’ll want to defend your client. You’ll want to over-explain. You’ll want to cast blame on Granny. Don’t do any of that!
The point of this statement is to merely give the facts and let the media, and thereby the public, know that you are working on it. It could go a little something like this:
“We understand the concerns and questions regarding the incident that took place between Santa Claus, his reindeer, and a woman walking near Candy Cane Lane on December 24 at 10 p.m. At this time, Santa, Inc. is working with authorities to identify the cause of the collision. The safety and wellbeing of the public is the utmost priority of Santa Inc. and Mr. Claus. We will update with additional information as we learn more.”
This statement does not give the media more information than what they already know while also expressing empathy and what actions are being taken by Santa, Inc. to resolve the situation.
If the news story has already caught fire with the media, you can send this statement out proactively. However, if the media still hasn’t tuned into the incident, send only on an as-requested basis.
3. The Aftermath
While Santa was cooperating with authorities at the scene of the collision, billions of people go without presents on Christmas. That means the eyes of the world are on Santa, Inc. and what happens next.
Will grandma bring litigation against Santa?
Is Santa going to be forced to retire?
Is that reindeer going to be put down?
The media wheels will begin to turn with “what if” scenarios, so you need to get ahead of the most prominent questions that will arise-and how you will address them.
Should you host a press conference to address all media questions at once? If so, you’ll need to make sure Santa is media trained and knows how to keep a cool head under pressure.
Should you give interviews when requested? Not giving interviews can give the illusion of secrecy, and therefore suggest wrongdoing. Agreeing to every interview makes Santa look bad — like he just wants to vent. Too much press time might open the door for a bad soundbite. Maybe Santa just takes that sit-down interview with “20/20” and calls it a day?
Regardless of what happens next, due to his prominence as Santa Claus and the unique situation, this is sure to be something you will be dealing with for the foreseeable months.
And next year, the media will speculate: “Who will Santa run over next?”
4. Damage Control
Perception is reality. For every negative news story, you’ll need five positive ones to counteract it. It’s time to go on the offensive — in a good way!
What non-elderly-trampling stories does Santa have in his sack?
Maybe it’s time to give the public the first-ever behind-the-scenes view of Santa’s legendary workshop.
Maybe a reporter can work a day in the life of an elf.
Are Santa and Mrs. Claus celebrating a momentous anniversary? Create a pitch to give the public a peek into their love.
The point here is to peel back the veil and humanize Santa. This way, the public forgets about the one mishap he’s ever made and focuses on just what a good guy Santa is!
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Not every PR crisis is magical-vehicular-manslaughter bad, but if you need help with your own crisis, reach out to The James Agency to put a crisis communication plan on your list for Christmas. We’re pretty good at keeping you off the naughty list.
Author: Christina Caldwell is Public Relations Account Supervisor at The James Agency, Scottsdale’s woman-led, insights-first, fully-integrated marketing agency. To learn more, visit www.thejamesagency.com.