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by Theresa Meyers
President, Blue Moon Communications

In this article we'll be delving into the part of PR called Crisis Communications. Now I'm sure many of you are thinking, "get real, I'm not going to need crisis communications". Ah, but at some point you might. And, in a business where perception is everything, you'd better be prepared when things go wrong or you'll be left with mud on your precious brand that may never come clean.

Every business is open to crisis. How an author handles crisis can leave a lasting perception with the public that can directly impact an author's image and brand. With a limited amount of time invested in planning, many of the critical moments of a crisis can be handled well and with tactical advantage to an author.

This plan details who and in what order people are to be contacted, who acts as the media spokespersons, sample press releases and media statements, a press conference plan and checklist, a communication plan for your various publics and sample web copy and checklist for updating your websites.

What types of crisis can impact an author? Examples include charges of plagiarism (even if untrue), embroilment in contract and rights disputes that become public, social connection to a major event, such as a crime that occurs to you or your family that becomes public news. All of these items can directly impact your sales and have lasting implications for your brand. Some may even find they have to start over from scratch to build a new brand under a different pen name.

If a crisis communications plan is so important, why don't more people have one? Well, it's like this. American society doesn't like to dwell on the unpleasant aspects of life. As a result we only purchase insurance because we're required to. In the same way most people just never get around to building a crisis communications plan because somewhere deep inside they want to believe
that nothing bad will ever happen to them. It's not true.

We live in a litigious-happy society where people regularly sue at the drop of a hat for things as trivial as a spilled cup of hot coffee or--get this--the heart-damaging fat content of an Oreo cookie. If they'll do this over food, imagine what they will do if they perceive you to be a big name author who can shell out lots of money (even if you aren't and don't have a lot of cash in the bank).

This is compounded because American society also has a thing about artists, writers, anyone they consider a celebrity or semi-celebrity, that makes them believe that all these people are incredibly wealthy and for whatever reason can make them famous too if they just could get close enough. Here is where you would run into trouble with strange people who would want to kidnap your child for the publicity they would get in connection to taking a celebrity's child or cases of stalkers. These are folks who want limelight and plan to use you as a medium to get it.

Sound grim? Well, that's kind of the basis of crisis communications. Think of the worst, most awful stuff that could happen and plan what you would do if it happened. In this way we can prepare ourselves to deal with the brain-numbing situation when it occurs without making a lot of extra mistakes and blunders.

Oh, stop groaning. Just because I'm making you plan out something else you'll need in the near future, doesn't mean it has to be tedious. Most people find it is easier to keep it in a loose-leaf binder so items can be three-hole punched and updated easily. Let's take it one step at a time.

First you need to think about who you are and who are the people you depend on. They should be those who are going to impact your decisions or need to be used as possible media interviews. List them in order of who you would want to be contacted and in what order with full contact information including their phone, fax, e-mail, cell number and anything else appropriate. For you this may include your editor, your agent, your spouse, your attorney, your publicist, etc. This is at the front of your crisis communications plan because you want easy access in a time of trouble to everyone you need to contact immediately, instead of flipping through a rolodex.

The next item in your plan should be selecting a media spokesperson. Now I'm sure many of you think that it would automatically be your publicist. Not true. Most of the time your publicist is going to suggest that you be the person to comment whenever possible. This is for two reasons. First, the media likes to get as close as possible to the source of the story. That would be you. Second, if you present your position clearly and effectively to the media then you are improving your credibility. No comment is NEVER an answer. It only makes people think you have something to hide, even if you don't.

If you are just unable to function in a crisis and think you'd be falling on the floor crying all over yourself, consider another member of the family or your agent or editor as a possible spokesperson. Ask them first before sticking them in a plan and make sure they have a copy of your plan if they are selected so they know what you want to do when and how it is supposed to be done.

Your plan is going to detail out what you'll do first, second and so on in the midst of a crisis. You'll need to decide things like would you call your agent or your editor first? A lot of it will depend on what crisis you are planning for.

Ask yourself what would you do if your child were kidnapped? What if your house burned down and all your current books that you were going to mail off to your editor with it? What if you were struck down with a debilitating disease or medical condition that made it impossible for you to write for a time or ever again? What if you were part of a national disaster or terrorist attack? What if someone broke into your home and stole your book in progress? What if someone blatantly plagiarized your work? What if you were being stalked? What if you were raped, beaten or mugged? What if you have a dark family secret that gets revealed to the public? What if you had a personal secret that gets revealed to your spouse? (Hey it happened to Bill Clinton, didn't it?) What if your publisher pulled your big contract? What if you had to sue your publisher for fraudulent acts? What if your agent walked off with all your money?

Like I said, not fun things to consider, but you get the gist. Once you become a public figure, which is what your brand is, there are all kinds of things that can matter. These aren't things out of the realm of possibility that could really impact your career and you as a person. Spend some time considering how you would want to respond in thesesituations and who you would need to contact and why. Then write it all out in a checklist fashion that you can use if you ever needed to.

These are going to be basic shells you can stick information into and send out at a moments notice. For instance, have one that is a basic publishing nightmare that talks about how the book (leave a blank for the title, ISBN and publisher) has be unavoidably delayed for (leave blank so you can fill in printing, distribution etc. as the crisis requires). Create a quote for yourself about how the situation distresses you and how plans are underway to correct the problem. Then write up a short paragraph that says For more information and updates, please contact (put your media spokesperson information here). Put a space for a headline and write up the rest of the format as shown in the press release samples from earlier in the class.

The statements are like a press release, only instead of telling all about the situation and giving them the facts in addition to your comments, you are only giving them your comments. Use simple quotes you will create for yourself to have handy to throw at media in a time of crisis. Think of all the icky things that could happen to you and develop quotes that you could use for them. Some quotes will work for more than one. Some people find it handy to actually lump their statements into categories such as Personal Crisis, Publishing Problems, Natural Disasters etc.

Here's a sample of a statement:

NAME HERE, author of historical romance for Avon, commented today on the natural disaster which flooded the New York publisher. "We are all shocked and dismayed, but Avon authors such as myself plan to support our publisher in whatever way we can to enable them to continue getting our readers the books they have so faithfully supported over the years."

NAME HERE has written 65 books for Avon. For more information on NAME HERE,
go to her website at

This part of your plan takes a little more effort to develop. You'll need to really think about who your local media are and if you need to have national media contacts listed too. If you are just starting out, usually local media will do. But in the case of a kidnapping or other family tragedy, don't be surprised if it becomes national news in a hurry.

Now if you had to gather representatives from all of these media organizations into one place, where would that be for you locally? Perhaps you'll need to think of two or three different locations where a press conference could be held to accommodate different sized groups.

Then think of a list of what you'll need there such as microphones (how many, one for you, one for your spokesperson?), podiums, chairs, phones (again how many lines, will you need faxing capabilities, will you need to set up a computer or have a computer site created in case of the emergency?) Who would you put in charge of taking care of gathering these items and preparing the site? What is their contact information?

Next have a call down list. Who will you invite to a press conference? List their contact information and perhaps write up a small announcement that could be faxed out to people or quickly written into an e-mail and sent out. Keep these in the binder next to the press conference plan.

Once you've accomplished the big effort of creating a crisis communications plan, make sure you keep it updated. There's nothing worse than having one only to find in a crisis that two of the three people most important for you to contact are dead, no longer with the company or the phone is disconnected. It is vital to keep all the contact information in your plan updated on at least an annual basis.

As your career changes, your plan will need to change with it. Things like contract wars in court that once seemed in the realm of fantasy can become very real problems once you start selling at a larger scale and previous publishers want to cash in on your backlist that may be detrimental to your current career.

Lastly, your crisis plan is an important tool, but not your most important tool. It's something that you can have if you want to when you are just starting out, but most of you won't see a specific need for it until your career grows and gives you more of a public image. Until then, just keep it tucked away somewhere so that when you're incredibly busy writing that next New York Times bestseller, you aren't having to carve out a chunk of time to create it.

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