Corporate PR crisis have become more common in the age of the internet. A company with what seems to be a minor problem can find themselves buried in bad news by on their Twitter feeds or Facebook pages. No business or industry is free from the potential of a PR crisis; whether a bad meal is served in a restaurant, a security breach occurred with customer credit cards in a store or a poor earnings or layoff report is leaked for a publicly traded company, every business has weak spots that could result in a crisis.
While in some instances bad public relations can be prevented, once they have occurred, it is imperative you respond to them quickly, effectively and wisely. A poor response can have a devastating impact on your business, your brand and your reputation.
Here are the basic ways to avoid making a crisis worse:
- Keep a Level Head – While you do not want to ignore a crisis, you also should not panic. The quickest way to allow something to get out of hand is to pretend it did not happen. If you panic, you are likely to make the crisis far worse than it already is. Keep your head about you until you learn all of the facts and make sure you do not say anything that could potentially add fuel to the fire. Generally, making snap decisions in the midst of a crisis is not the most effective way to deal with the crisis; most of us do not make our best decisions under pressure.
- Quickly Communicate Internally – The first line of defense is your internal teams. This includes customer service teams, marketing teams and anyone who has communications with your customer base. Let them know you are aware of the problem, give them a brief outline of how you intend to address the issues and an estimated timeline for resolution. Each team member should be told exactly what role they can play in successful resolution. In addition, any employees who are responsible for handling social media accounts, customer service calls or any other contact areas where they might be told of any fallout should be instructed to keep one person on staff informed of any new problems that are occurring or how your overall customer base and the general public are reacting to the crisis.
- Getting to the Root of the Problem – Before you can put a plan in place to deal with a PR crisis, you must know what the problem was, what caused the problem in the first place and determine how the problem can be avoided in the future. This means you will have to reach out internally and determine who knew what and how the problem accelerated. You will also have to determine what the public’s perception of the problem is which can often be gleaned from your customer service professionals as well as those employees who are monitoring your social media accounts. This is one of the most important steps you will take to determining the overall depth and breadth of the problem.
- Measuring Business Consequences – Addressing a problem is only part of what you have to deal with. You will have to seek external and internal information about the consequences of this crisis and what the overall impact of the crisis will be on your business. Remember, your business reputation will be on the line; you will have to find out the immediate consequences and also see if there are long-term consequences that will have to be dealt with. Understanding the potential fallout can help you make a final determination about how to address a crisis.
- Communicate, Listen and Get Buy-in – Work with your internal team to develop a response to the current crisis. This will involve communicating the problem, your vision for a resolution and listening to your team to formulate a final plan to inform your customers, the public and when appropriate, the press. Once you have an internal plan and everyone understands the plan, release the outlines of your plan publicly through whatever methods are most appropriate. This may include press releases, social media posts and in some cases, interviews on radio or television.
- Stay Prepared and Stay Ahead of Your Message – Once you have addressed the crisis publicly, it is important to monitor how your message is received and perceived. Make sure you stay abreast of any issues that occur and take immediate steps to address questions, concerns and complaints. Keep in mind, one danger that could occur is a response to a crisis could start another crisis and you want to do everything in your power to prevent that from happening. You can prevent bigger problems by addressing issues that come up as quickly as possible; this will also help begin the process of rehabilitating your brand.
- Embrace the Take–Away – The old saying “never let a good crisis go to waste” has some merit. Make sure you are learning something from this crisis because you may have new tools to battle back against the next crisis that occurs. In many cases, what you learn may be how to avoid a similar crisis in the future but even if that is not the case, you can certainly learn about more effective crisis management for future incidents.
Regardless of the size of your business or what product or service you are offering the public, the potential for a PR crisis is real. How you respond to a crisis will tell your current and future customers a lot about how you run your business.
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We’ve built the rapid response, crisis communications, and crisis management processes for many Fortune 500 corporations.
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