A PR crisis can happen to any business. It’s prudent to assume that eventually, your company will face a situation that requires special attention.
Being prepared is always the best defense. Here are the 10 best ways to handle a PR crisis.
- Establish the response team
Ideally, your company will already have an organized response team for PR incidents. If there isn’t a team in place, however, you should make your selections quickly.
Evan Nierman, the founder of Red Banyan, notes that it’s crucial for companies to “react fast and speak with one voice.” It looks unprofessional when several people are chiming in with contradictory statements. Nierman recommends creating a response team that encompasses employees and external parties familiar with the media’s tactics.
Each spokesperson must be well suited to their assigned role. For example, you could have a highly-intelligent, incredibly compassionate executive who doesn’t do well on camera. Presentation plays a significant role in managing PR crises.
- Gather all the facts
We can’t stress this enough: You must get all the facts surrounding the situation. If you’re working with incomplete and inconclusive information, you’ll likely make the situation worse.
When Delta Airlines experienced an aircraft malfunction in Atlanta, they initially claimed they were suffering an electrical outage. However, Georgia Power claimed the cause was “an equipment failure.” Chris Matyszczyk wrote about confusion in Inc.:
“When Delta’s computers went down, it blamed a ‘power outage.’ This seemed odd. Why would a power outage in Atlanta cause mayhem across the globe? Those Georgians must have quite some power. This forced Georgia Power to slide onto Twitter and offer a delicate elucidation: ‘#Delta experienced an equipment failure overnight causing their outage. We are working closely w/ Delta as they make repairs.’ Ergo, the supposed power outage was actually a failure of Delta’s computer systems. Obfuscation via your PR department isn’t a good look.”
Though you may feel rushed to give an explanation, taking the time to identify the real cause of an issue is better for your company in the long run.
When dealing with a PR crisis, it’s best to avoid making statements that subsequently turn out to be false. Instead, commit to being transparent. Share the information you have and the actions you are taking to get more answers.
Today’s fast-paced news habits can put extreme pressure on a company to respond too quickly. Take the time to structure your response in the most effective and honest way possible.
In the immediate aftermath of a crisis, you will be inundated with requests for information. Hence, it’s crucial for everyone on the response team to know what, specifically, they are responsible for.
- Notify all personnel of strategy
Anyone with any kind of relation to the organization could be asked about a crisis, so it’s imperative for every team member to be on the same page. Even those who may not be directly contacted by the media should be aware of the facts, the strategy, and all other relevant information. This can help prevent any future backtracking.
- Craft an intentional message
After gathering all the facts and agreeing on response team roles and responsibilities, you can draft your response. Be as transparent and open as possible, stating what you know about the situation and what you plan to do.
- Identify and address the affected parties
In addition to notifying all your employees, stakeholders, and business partners, the company should make direct contact with their customers and the media. Reaching out to the media can help you stay ahead of the situation. Again, stick to the facts, and avoid spin.
- Modify your digital marketing strategy
Social media channels are effective tools when dealing with a PR crisis. Think of your Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn pages as mediums for “virtual press conferences.” Send out an email to everyone in your database. Update the copy on your website’s homepage and put a pause on unrelated campaigns and content. Make sure your statements have been approved by legal and choose your words carefully.
- Be open (and polite) on social media
Social media is often at the epicenter of a professional blunder. As the Tweets and private messages start rolling in, it’s important to remain calm and focused. It may be tempting to delete negative comments here and there, but users will notice and draw even more negative attention to your brand. Respond politely and clearly. This is not the time to go AWOL on social, either.
In 2013, Amy’s Baking Company made headlines when Gordon Ramsay cut their collaboration short on “Kitchen Nightmares.” In response, the bakery took to social media. The following is a screenshot of one their Facebook statuses:
This reads as lashing out. It makes much more strategic sense to plan a passionate yet thoughtful response rather than try to mitigate what can appear to your audience as strident, accusatory, blaming, and angry.
Compare this reaction to KFC’s after their “chicken shortage” in the UK:
The brand managed to turn their crisis into a social marketing success.
- Keep an eye on the situation
Don’t rush to move on and sweep things under the rug. Practice social listening to follow what people are saying about your brand online.
- Try to learn from the crisis
How could the event have been prevented? How well did your team respond to the situation? What improvements can your company make this month? This year? How do you plan to move forward?
Here are some actions to avoid in the face of a PR incident:
Criticizing the opposing party
Even if someone is being completely dishonest, you shouldn’t lead with censures. Set your emotions aside and prioritize being factual.
Pulling a “no comment”
Regrettably, the phrase “no comment” suggests misconduct and culpability. The expression can give the media more leeway to fabricate. If you truly lack an adequate amount of information, be honest, and promise to provide updates as soon as you are able to.
Respond too quickly or slowly
Again, you don’t want to give an impulsive and overhasty response, but you also can’t let too much time pass.
Remember, A PR crisis isn’t the end of the world. In fact, it could even bring necessary issues to light. Like preparing for a natural calamity with foresight and calm, having a solid plan for any potential PR issues is always a safe bet.