One of the toughest calls I receive as the owner of a public relations agency specializing in the home services industry is from a plumbing or mechanical business owner asking for my help after they find themselves, or their business, in the middle of a crisis.
It’s especially hard because even though we always want to try to jump in and help, if the call comes out of the blue from a business I am not familiar with, it can already be too late to make much of a difference. But the headline to this article rings true whether your business is in a crisis or not — please read this before you speak to the media.
Why you need a PR partner
Don’t get me wrong, journalists are some of my favorite people. I employ many former journalists, and I was a journalist at one time. I have great relationships with TV reporters, radio hosts, print reporters and managing editors. But as a PR agency owner, I know negative or sensational stories attract the most attention from media, and it’s often the negative stories that get the most attention from readers or viewers, too.
So, while I have enormous respect for journalists and the important job they perform, I also feel a loyalty to my home service industry clients, and want them to succeed and prosper. But one thing I cannot do is turn back time. My advice to all plumbing and mechanical contractors is this: If you don’t have a crisis right now, that’s great, but you will. And, having a PR partner at the ready is your best protection from unwanted media attention.
There are any number of potential crisis situations a business may face. Maybe there is a severe weather event that necessitates the evacuation of your business. Or, maybe a technician was stopped by police in one of your service trucks and it was filmed by a local news team. Or worse, maybe one of your employees was wearing his uniform while he was conducting a drug deal and was captured by a cellphone video that was then posted to TikTok and went viral. All are crises of one kind or another, so you can see how a crisis can happen no matter how hard you work at being a vigilant home service business owner.
What can make it worse, however, is if the media contacts you about one of the above situations and you start texting or talking with them. If you are not used to dealing with the media, you can get yourself and your business in a whole lot of trouble. Why? Because anything you say or text is fodder for an article or news story. And if you are not media-trained, (or even if you are) your words can be misinterpreted, taken out of context or otherwise edited to sound completely different than what was intended.
How can a PR agency help in a crisis?
One of the main benefits of having a PR agency on record is that you have the knowledge that no matter what happens, you can call your agency and they have your back. No matter what the issue is, your agency is there to help you through the crisis. But the operative words here are agency of record. In other words, a PR agency can’t help you if they don’t know you.
So, the best plan is a proactive plan. A PR agency specializing in plumbing and mechanical businesses will be able to act on a moment’s notice for its clients because it has an existing relationship, and knows the business inside out. If you do hire an agency as a proactive measure, you will be glad you did because if something unforeseen happens, a crisis plan will already be in place, ready to put into action, preventing a small crisis from becoming a monumental crisis.
Some media don’ts
- Don’t say anything to a media member without talking to a PR representative first. Unfortunate things can happen if you start talking to media directly. And you can find yourself saying things that you might regret that can’t be retracted;
- Don’t respond to media inquiries in a text or email either. Refer them to your PR agency or communications team. You may think the inquiry is harmless, and it may be, but let a PR partner handle media inquiries. It’s their business to know exactly what to say, so let them do their job;
- If an answer is needed immediately (which is rarely the case) you should never let the pressure force you to say something or discuss something you aren’t comfortable with. It’s OK to say you will need a minute and that you’ll get back with them shortly. Then call a trusted team member or PR representative for guidance; and
- Do not get into a social media discussion with media either. If they inquire about anything via social media, you can forward it to a communications team member or a PR representative if you have one, and it will be handled with professionalism right away.
One of the worst things you can do is let a media question fluster you or try to cover something up. While honesty and transparency is the best policy, sometimes there are circumstances where being completely transparent isn’t possible or advisable. There could be very valid reasons for staying mum about your business, and having a partner to manage your PR can give you peace of mind that your business’ image and reputation is in good hands.
While no home service business is completely immune to a crisis, being proactive rather than reactive when a crisis does happen can save your business from becoming a salacious news story, with film at 11.