In today’s connected world, news travels fast, especially if it is bad news. The smallest incident can snowball into a crisis and every organization. Fortune 500s to start-ups are all vulnerable. At some point, most organizations will face some sort of a public relations crisis. Your response to this can either boost your image or significantly damage your brand. In this day and age, when news goes viral almost instantly, organizations need to be ready to respond to any PR crisis quickly and efficiently, using all available platforms.
If you are fortunate not to experience a crisis yet and reputation management isn’t your company’s top marketing priority, perhaps now it should be.
Here are a few golden rules of PR crisis management any company should stick to if you want to avoid losing business over a crisis that can easily be averted. There is no “one glove fits all” approach but it is wise to take onboard some of these points should you find yourself or your company in one of these precarious situations.
1. Ok.. So Now What? When the “sludge” hits the fan, the first rule of crisis management is to turn off the fan. Don’t fuel the fire. Take a step back and put yourself in the consumers’ shoes and ask, “How would I feel if this happened to me?”. Looking in the mirror is the best PR advice there is when dealing with crisis situations. It ensures we do the right thing and beats spin every time.
2: Understand the Situation: Communicate all relevant details to your key stakeholders. Be transparent (even if you’re still assessing a situation). If you don’t have a voice in the matter, people immediately assume guilt or make their own suppositions. Recognize when operational improvements are necessary and be transparent about how you’re solving the situation.
3. Own It: Don’t try to cover up the crisis, it will only worsen the damage. Manage the situation by taking responsibility, reacting immediately, and responding to feedback. Refrain from arguing publicly, acknowledge people’s questions/concerns and respond to the right conversations. Write a press release and post on social media to control the situation and get the message visible.
4. Stay Ahead of the Developing Story: Getting ahead of the story is the strategy. Don’t wait until you unearth a corporate strategy that you are unfamiliar with. Figure out the fine points of the strategy later but start communicating, apologizing, refunding, or whatever you need to do to ensure you are doing right by your customers and potential customers.
5: Avoid Knee-Jerk Reactions: Companies, brand representatives or influencers can often provide emotional, frenzied responses. Going silent on social is not a bad thing when you are monitoring a crisis. Freeze all external communication until you can assess what’s going on. Be sure that the first external communication following the crisis is a well-thought-out response that resonates with your consumers.
6. Be Human – Apologize, Then Action: Respond by mentioning you’re saddened by what has happened and will work on making things better instantly. Extending a heartfelt apology is key to moving forward. Following the public apology, offer a call to action. Do something substantial to show that they are changing their ways moving forward. Immediately share how policies will be put in place so it doesn’t happen again. Act fast before people lose faith in your brand.
7. Be Proactive, Transparent and Accountable: In today’s social media driven world, reputation management matters more than ever and it also can be tarnished instantly. Be proactive, be transparent, and be accountable. Acknowledge the incident, accept responsibility, and apologize.
8. Prepare for a Potential Social Media Backlash: Don’t ignore the possibility that a firestorm could ignite on social media. Smaller organizations and especially those that are not active on social media can be more guilty of this. Just because a company is not marketing on social does not mean their customers won’t put them in check on those platforms when something goes wrong. Have a plan and review it often.
9. Monitor, Plan and Communicate: Have your social team on high alert, with monitoring at the forefront. If possible, utilize an already well-versed crisis plan to proactively respond on social with prepared materials. Refrain from allowing executives go rogue with the potential to fuel the flames, but do encourage them to apologize immediately with predetermined and approved key messages.
10: Follow Through on your Promises: This is even more important than letting the public know what your course of action is. If you do not follow through on what you said you would do, the public will view you and your company as being untrustworthy and there will be a permanent negative viewpoint of your brand in the eyes of those who know you.
Disclaimer: By no means does this checklist apply to all scenarios but merely provides a few things to consider if you do not have a pre-determined crisis management team or PR company on standby in the event of such an unfolding dilemma.
Looking Forward: Now you have experienced the crisis, now what? Learn from it. Preventing a future crisis through developing a strong organizational brand culture. An organizational brand culture that treats customers badly likely treats its employees poorly too. Dig deep into organizational culture and service delivery and you’ll find that new lows in brand experience always start at the top.
Hear from reputation strategy leader Georgette Pascale, CEO of Pascale Communications in this weeks episode of The Curtis & Coulter Podcast. She’ll be giving tips and advice on remote working and pivoting your business as we all navigate the Coronavirus crisis.
- Learn more crisis mitigation strategies from industry experts though the Curtis & Coulter podcast
- Join our Public Relations & Marketing Professionals LinkedIn Group to learn from and connect with some of PR and Crisis Management’s leading experts. Thanks for reading and comments welcome!
- Stay looped in for 2021’s Reputation Strategy Summit in San Diego. This unique event which will feature a unique lineup of multiple top practitioner professionals and prominent academics across various industries to help guide discussions about crisis communication issues, present case studies, share best practices and highlight emerging trends. During this “TED-style PR event” you will learn how to effectively set-up internally and prepare for a crisis, as well as respond in a time-efficient manner, which will benefit your organization’s brand and reputation.
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