Earlier this year, my company was hired to handle crisis social media consulting for some very public (very NDA-ed) clients. Think: Responding to angry DMs, middle-of-the-night mentions - and in some cases, strategically choosing to not respond. If you've ever been a part of a PR crisis, you know how stressful it can be.
...which brings me to Max Marcucci. A senior PR strategist and crisis manager at Levick, Marcucci recently handled crisis comms for the Miami building collapse - and also a presidential pardon. His work has been recognized by the American Advertising Federation, and his areas of expertise include crisis and reputation management, public affairs, international trade and cyber security. In my Instagram Live series Asking for Myself, I asked Marcucci all of my and my followers’ burning questions about what it means to be a crisis communications consultant and what that experience on the front lines is like. Let’s just say, it’s not for the faint of heart.
We’ve all heard about the Facebook whistleblower. The companies refusing vaccine mandates. The politicians accused of inappropriate conduct. The companies and personnel under fire for their stance on race. So how are the people behind the scenes handling it?
According to Marcucci, the biggest thing to remember is that there is a human on the other side of every interaction. “There are strategies you can use; the biggest one is listening,” he said.
When it comes to highly controversial topics, hearing folks out is the first and most important step. But soliciting feedback can’t just be lip service. If you’re going to listen, you have to be willing to act on what you hear. Be prepared to make the necessary changes, and if not, be ready to explain why. It can be easy to want to please every last person, but once a response strategy is built, Marcucci says it is critical to stick by it.
Why hire outside help like Levick? Well, a company’s jam is kind of their jam.
Too often, those who communicate in a crisis without a proper strategy make a mistake that they can’t undo. One of the most common mistakes, Marcucci says, is responding to the public, employees or stakeholders too early. When you respond too early without the answers to the questions you will inevitably be asked, people only become more frustrated and concerned. As kids, we are taught to apologize and right our wrongs as soon as we recognize we have hurt someone. That’s not the case in crisis communications. Patience is the name of the game.
“We don’t get judged on stories we place, we get judged on stories we kill,” Marcucci pointed out. So waiting to gather all of the necessary information, nailing down the correct timing and cadence, and developing an effective response strategy to your audience is critical before any move can be made.
And for small business owners and entrepreneurs who may not have the budget or overwhelming need for a crisis communications expert, Marcucci advises staying true to your values and being transparent. If a particular crisis causes a reaction on social media, don’t delete comments; respond to them. Express empathy and willingness to engage in further conversation about their concerns offline. And if you’re feeling unsure, surround yourself with trusted people you can bounce ideas off of as you prepare your strategy.
And for my most burning question... How does he do it?!
Working with companies when they’re at their lowest point, or dealing with the fallout of a tragedy such as the Miami condo collapse is no easy task. For Marcucci and Levick, emphasizing the human element is how they approach every challenge thrown their way. Coming from a place of empathy is critical in any messaging. Because at the end of the day, there are humans listening and humans being impacted.
But of course, Marcucci has a job to do, and it almost looks like an emergency room doctor. As a professional, he has to maintain his composure and level-headedness to effectively communicate on behalf of his clients. But in the case of a project like Miami, he mourns with the rest of the world after the job is done.
This recap doesn’t even scratch the surface of Marcucci’s insights. You can catch our full IG Live conversation on my Instagram, and if you’d like to learn more about Levick, visit levick.com!