It’s every marketer’s (and CEO’s) nightmare: In a flash, your company’s good name gets dragged through the mud due to an employee scandal, a faulty product, a poor online review or an unexpected event. No one wants to think about it, but it happens to the best of businesses – and with the range and speed of social media, word can spread almost instantly.
The good news is, just as with a customer complaint, a PR crisis that’s handled correctly can actually boost the reputation of your company. (We’re not recommending you try this, however!) It’s all about how the issue is acknowledged, addressed and communicated.
If at all possible, prepare now. Don’t wait until you have a PR crisis on your hands. Sit your marketing/PR team down and have a brainstorming session to discuss what actions you would take in a wide variety of scenarios. Put together a crisis plan and think about who would need to be notified how, what messages would need to be sent and what actions would be taken.
In addition (or if you’ve just found yourself in a PR crisis and don’t have time to prepare a plan!), here are some additional steps to take:
- Listen and understand first, then think and act
Usually, a PR crisis comes about because of a customer complaint or because of actual or perceived harm to someone (due to a faulty product, poor service, employee misconduct, etc.). Therefore, your crisis communication plan aims to minimize risk to your company, your employees and the public while addressing the issue. Your job during a PR crisis is to determine what the true problem is, as well as how it’s being viewed by customers, the media and the public at large. To do that, you need to listen objectively to the people who are complaining and determine what the true issue is before you take any action.
- Gather your team
Next, bring the members of your crisis team together to discuss the problem, develop an action plan and discuss who will do what. (Hint: Avoiding the issue is not an option.) Depending on the severity of the problem, you may need to bring in several members of senior management as well as legal counsel. If you need help dealing with the media (social or otherwise), now may be a good time to bring in some reinforcements – a team of outsourced PR professionals who can offer advice and hands-on support at a time when you need it most. Spending some extra dollars for professional PR help in a big crisis will easily pay off in the long run.
- Determine the who, where, what and how
You’ll need to determine who should speak for your organization, as well as what messages will be communicated where to all audiences, including employees, customers, the media and the public. This may involve a wide range of communication methods and tools including website updates, emails, meetings, posted notices, press conferences and social media posts. Above all, communication must be consistent and honest – if you try to cover anything up or send mixed messages, you’ll pay for it sooner or later. It’s important to make sure that you acknowledge the problem – even if it’s not your fault – and how your company is dealing with it. In addition, make sure you ARE talking to all the audiences involved. For instance, don’t let your employees hear about it through social media, or you’ll wind up with additional problems.
- Keep an eye out
Now’s the time to keep your eye on social media and online reports to see how (and if) the story is progressing and how it’s affecting your company’s reputation. You’ll need to provide a series of updates to communicate with various audiences as action is taken. As time moves on, you may need to adjust your plan to deal with ongoing feedback.
Think you might need some extra resource on your side in the event of a PR crisis? Contact us to discuss how we can help.