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No one expects a public relations (PR) crisis to happen. If you’re lucky, you might be able to avoid your business experiencing one throughout the course of its lifetime.
However, it’s never a good practice to hope for good luck. Just like you have emergency protocols for scenarios like a fire or health emergency, it’s also vital to have a plan in place in case of a PR crisis.
After all, a PR crisis can happen to companies of all sizes at a moment’s notice. Just ask Facebook, which earlier this month faced criticism after it was revealed data on 50 million of its users was improperly accessed by consulting firm Cambridge Analytica. Or look to United Airlines, which last year faced backlash after a passenger was forcibly removed from a plane and injured in the process.
In times of crisis, responding quickly is essential — which is why it’s important to already have a blueprint in place for how to respond should the time come. With this in mind, here are best practices for responding to negative coverage that should be included in any PR crisis response plan.
At the beginning stages of a PR crisis, it can be tempting to keep your head down and just hope the whole thing blows over. Unfortunately, this almost never pans out successfully.
Instead, the best thing to do is to publicly acknowledge that you’re aware of the incident and are thoroughly investigating the matter. Issue a carefully framed public statement as soon as possible. Clearly state your role in the incident and the steps you are taking to resolve it. This is beneficial because it helps you control the narrative.
In a PR crisis, apologizing can go a long way, even if the incident wasn’t completely in your control. As a result, any PR crisis response plan should stress the importance of accepting responsibility for the role you played.
A PR crisis can unfold fast and change course quickly. As a result, it’s important to keep a pulse on media outlets and social media to ensure you’re the first to know of any updates as they occur. Even if your brand isn’t extremely active on social media, during a PR crisis close social media monitoring is vital. Where appropriate, be sure to respond to the concerns of any customers who post publicly to your social media pages.
In addition, it’s also vital to ensure your team is in the loop and that everyone has the latest up-to-date information. That way you can ensure your employees are answering customer questions in a similar way — again, controlling the narrative.
When your company’s reputation is on the line, it can be easy to lash out — especially if a PR crisis resulted from a series of events that wasn’t 100 percent your fault. But lashing out will only make things worse. In any situation, it’s important to seek to understand by putting yourself in your customers’ shoes. How would you feel? How would you want the company to respond? Take emotion out of your response as much as possible.
One of the most important steps in responding to a PR crisis is taking action, whether it’s issuing refunds, creating a new policy or when necessary, even firing an employee or vendor that was at the center of the incident. No matter the action, it’s important to do something to not only remedy the situation immediately, but also prevent it from happening again. Release that action plan to the public so they know you don’t just plan to apologize and hope the incident goes away.