MMI Watercooler Newsletter
The Talk Of The Town: What Growing Up In A Small Town Taught Me About Crisis PR
by Kelsie Murdock on 07/30/2012
If you have read my bio, you know that though I absolutely love living in Raleigh, I am no native to the Triangle. Born in Kannapolis, N.C., my family moved to a little small town called Denver (yes, I promise you that there is a Denver in N.C.) right before I started first grade. Growing up in a small town taught me many things that some of you city folk do not get to experience. For example, did you know that small towns are the best at coming up with the weirdest/funniest (and most embarrassing) institution names? Neither did I until I went to a brand new school horrifyingly named Pumpkin Center Middle School. Even weirder, our mascot was a panther. If you can figure out the connection there, please give me a call as it will solve a lifelong mystery of mine. All jokes aside, and though I am glad to now live under the big city lights, growing up in the “Denver of the East” taught me a lot about public relations, especially regarding crisis communications. Here are my life lessons that serve as valuable PR lessons as well:
Someone will always find out
Kids in my town used to get in trouble for the dumbest things, like unloading a bunch of crickets into a classroom or lighting a paper towel on fire, ultimately leading to a small fire in the boys’ bathroom (and early dismissal from school—which was awesome). Have mercy on us. We were bored. But, when anyone would ask these kids why they did what they did, part of their response was that they did not think they would get caught. They would come up with these elaborate and fool-proof plans for covering up their wrongdoings, but at the end of the day, someone always found out. Always. That’ll learn ‘em. If you look at a lot of crisis communications disasters, the same lesson applies. No matter what, someone will always eventually find out.
When people find out, they will talk
Want to know how the kid who started the fire in the boys’ bathroom got caught? Someone told on him. And before someone told on him, we all knew who “dunnit.” People like to know stuff, and when people know stuff, they like to talk about it. It is just the way life goes. So while you may think all is well when only one person finds out about a mistake made or some sort of wrongdoing, this person is probably (read: definitely) going to talk to someone about it, who will talk to someone else about it and so on.
When people talk and you remain silent, the truth will get twisted
I would be sitting in a mansion right now if I had a dollar for every time I heard someone whisper, “Did you hear what insert-guilty-party-here did?” followed by, “Yeah, I heard it was to insert-ridiculous-false-accusation-here.” The lesson to be learned here: not only will someone always find out about and spread the news, but the more people talk while you stay quiet, the more the facts will get twisted up. If you do not own up to your actions and speak up to set the record straight, people will keep talking and the truth will continue to get twisted until you end up pregnant with alien twins on a plane to Mexico. OK. So maybe it will not be that drastic, but you get the point.
While I could sit here and provide you with twenty more pages of hilarious examples, the point will remain unchanged. Take it from the crazy kids from my neck of the woods: if a crisis happens, someone will find out. When someone finds out, he or she will tell other people. When people start talking and you keep quiet, the truth will get twisted. So all jokes aside, if and when something happens, fess up and deal with it. This may mean apologizing or that you have angry customers to address, but if you don’t handle it, someone else will … and it will not be pretty.
Image Source: paulsparks03