Shortening the News Cycle: How to Minimize the Impact of a PR Crisis

pr crisis

We are in an era of unprecedented speed when it comes to information dissemination.

For brands, this fast-paced info exchange is a mixed bag. 

On the one hand, it’s great for getting your message out there quickly. 

On the other, it means that a PR mishap can blow up into a major crisis before you’ve even had your morning coffee. In the age of instant information, a small slip can suddenly put your brand on the defensive, spotlighting the critical need for speed in your PR playbook.

But here’s the thing: reacting fast doesn’t mean panicking and sending out a rushed statement. It’s about being on your toes—ready to jump into action with a plan that’s both swift and smart. The hours right after a crisis hits are your make-or-break moments. They’re your chance to shape the story rather than letting the story shape you.

Speed is crucial, sure, but it’s not just about being quick off the mark. It’s also about being open and honest. People can spot a cover-up a mile away, and nothing loses trust faster than feeling like you’re being lied to. When a brand steps up quickly, admits to the hiccup, and lays out a clear plan to fix things, it doesn’t just dodge the bullet—it can actually win respect.

Let’s not forget, we’re in an era where folks expect more than just products or services from the brands they support. They’re looking for realness, responsibility, and actions that match up with all those values brands love to talk about. 

This means you can’t just play defense when things go sideways. You’ve got to be sharing the good stuff—what you stand for, the cool things you’re doing, the value you’re adding to the world—well before any trouble starts. This way, when a storm does hit, there’s already a strong foundation of positive vibes about your brand that can help soften the blow and remind people why they liked you in the first place.

Related Reading: Beekeeping Lessons for Crisis Communications

The Importance of Being Candid and Transparent

Honesty isn’t just a virtue; in crisis management, it’s your best strategy. Being candid about what happened, accepting responsibility (when appropriate), and being clear about how you’re addressing the issue can build trust—even in tough times. This approach contrasts sharply with companies that have tried to downplay issues or shift blame, which almost invariably backfires when the full story comes to light.

Here’s an example. 

In 2019, Canadian financial services company Desjardins experienced a significant data breach. They disclosed the incident publicly and undertook extensive efforts to secure members’ personal data. 

These efforts included creating a Desjardins Security Office and an Information Security and Privacy Protection Improvement Program, conducting security screening, implementing employee awareness training, updating policies, and enhancing data monitoring. 

Despite seeing a dip in revenue in 2019 due to the breach, Desjardins’ transparent response and commitment to strengthening security controls helped rebuild its reputation. 

This transparency fostered trust among their clients, contributing to the company earning an operating income of $18,399 million in 2020, up from $17,862 million at the time of the breach in 2019​. As of 2022, the company reported an operating income of $21,798 million. Clearly, their efforts are still paying off. 

Transparency means letting your stakeholders in on what you’re doing and why. It means keeping communication channels open—and not just during the crisis. Regular updates about what steps are being taken, progress that’s being made, and any changes in plans are crucial. This ongoing dialogue can turn a skeptical audience into a supportive one.

Proactive Measures to Prevent PR Crises

Brands that are proactive rather than reactive in their approach to PR can navigate crises more smoothly. This means preparing crisis communication plans in advance, training spokespeople, and having monitoring tools in place to catch issues early. 

Know your terrain. 

Keeping an eye on what’s being said about your brand online is key. Social listening tools aren’t just fancy accessories; they’re essentials in your PR toolkit. 

Communication is king. 

Establish clear lines of communication within your team and have a go-to crisis plan in place. Knowing who says what, where, and when can make all the difference in a tight spot. It’s like having a fire drill; when everyone knows their role, you can evacuate smoothly without tripping over each other.

Related Reading: How to Communicate with Stakeholders in a Time of Crisis

Build a bank of positivity. 

In calm times, make a point of broadcasting what you stand for. Celebrate your wins, share your community involvement, spotlight your sustainability efforts—whatever it is that makes your brand shine. When you’re vocal about the good, it creates a cushion of goodwill that can soften the impact of any negative press.

Training is your friend. 

Just like you wouldn’t want to fly a plane without lessons, don’t expect your team to handle a crisis without proper training. Regularly run through crisis simulations. The more your team practices, the cooler they’ll be under pressure, ensuring that when real trouble comes knocking, panic doesn’t answer the door.

Feedback loops are invaluable. 

Encourage and pay attention to customer feedback. Often, your audience will point out blind spots you didn’t even know you had. Seeing a problem through their eyes can help you adjust course early and avoid bigger issues down the line.

Preparing for the Inevitable: Crisis Management Planning

Here’s a step-by-step guide to preparing a comprehensive crisis management plan: 

1. Risk Assessment

Begin by identifying potential crises that could impact your organization. This includes everything from data breaches and product recalls to natural disasters and social media backlash. Understanding the risks specific to your industry and organization is the first step in crafting an effective crisis management plan.

2. Assemble a Crisis Management Team

Designate a team responsible for crisis management, including members from different departments such as PR, legal, HR, and operations. This team should be trained to handle crisis situations, with clearly defined roles and responsibilities.

3. Develop Communication Strategies 

Effective communication is critical during a crisis. Prepare templates for press releases, social media posts, and internal communications in advance. Determine who will be authorized to speak on behalf of the company, ensuring they are trained to handle media inquiries and public statements.

4. Social Listening

Crises often unfold or escalate on social media. Implement monitoring tools to track what is being said about your brand online. This real-time information can help you respond more quickly and appropriately to emerging issues.

Related Reading: The Ultimate Guide to Community Management For Marketers

5. Establish Internal and External Communication Channels 

Clearly define how you will communicate with employees, stakeholders, and the public during a crisis. Internal communication ensures that your team is informed and aligned, while external communication helps manage public perception and maintain customer trust.

6. Create an Action Plan

For each potential crisis identified, develop a specific action plan detailing the steps to be taken, resources required, and individuals responsible. This plan should also include procedures for escalating issues within the organization.

Related Reading: 13 Ways to Handle a PR Crisis

7. Train and Drill 

Regular training sessions and simulation drills can help your team become more comfortable and effective in managing crises. These exercises should test both your communication plans and operational responses to ensure everyone knows what to do when a real crisis hits.

8. Review and Revise 

Crisis management plans are not set in stone. Regularly review and update your plan to reflect new risks, changes in your business operations, or lessons learned from past crises or drills.

Measuring Success: Reputation as the Litmus Test

In the aftermath of a PR crisis, measuring success and understanding the impact on your brand’s reputation requires keen observation and strategic action. The true test of how well a crisis has been managed lies in your stakeholders’ perception of your brand—everyone from customers, employees, investors, and the public at large. 

Here’s how to gauge the resolution of a PR crisis through stakeholder perception and methods to monitor and improve your brand reputation post-crisis.

Gauging Resolution through Stakeholder Perception

Customer Feedback and Surveys

Direct feedback from your customers can provide insightful data on how their perceptions might have changed following a crisis. Use surveys to ask targeted questions about trust, satisfaction, and perception of your brand’s crisis response.

Social Media Sentiment Analysis

Using tools to analyze the sentiment of social media posts related to your brand can offer real-time insights into public perception. Increases in positive sentiment can indicate successful crisis management, whereas lingering negative sentiment may suggest further work is needed.

Media Coverage Analysis

The tone and content of media coverage post-crisis can significantly influence public perception. Analyzing how the media portrays your brand in the aftermath can provide clues to the overall success of your crisis management efforts.

Employee Feedback

Employees are not just internal stakeholders; they’re also brand ambassadors. Gathering their input can reveal internal perceptions and the effectiveness of internal crisis communication strategies.

Related Reading: The Difference Between PR, Earned Media, and Crisis Comms

Methods for Monitoring and Improving Brand Reputation Post-Crisis

Continuous Social Media Monitoring

Keep an eye on what’s being said about your brand on social media. Tools that provide alerts for brand mentions can help you stay ahead of potential issues before they escalate.

Reputation Management Software

Invest in reputation management tools that aggregate feedback from various sources, including online reviews and social media, to monitor your brand’s health over time.

Engage Proactively with Stakeholders

Don’t retreat into silence post-crisis. Continue to engage with your audience through transparent communication, updates on improvements or changes made in response to the crisis, and positive stories that reinforce your brand values.

Content Marketing

Use content marketing to rebuild and reinforce your brand image. Share stories that highlight your brand’s strengths, community involvement, customer service successes, and any other content that can positively influence perceptions.

SEO Strategies

Implement SEO strategies to improve the visibility of positive content about your brand in search engine results. This can help counteract any negative content lingering on the web.

Regularly Review and Adjust Strategies

Reputation management is not a set-it-and-forget-it task. Regularly review the effectiveness of your strategies and be prepared to adjust them as needed based on ongoing feedback and monitoring results.

Success in the wake of a PR crisis is not just about returning to “business as usual.” It’s about learning from the experience, making necessary changes, and continuously engaging with your stakeholders to rebuild and maintain trust.


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