No company is completely immune to public relations crises, but taking these steps will help leaders to navigate potential issues with grace and tact.
Here's what you need to know:
- It’s better to have a public relations crisis management plan in place and not need it than to need it but not have it
- Being able to define a crisis is crucial to coming up with a PR crisis plan — as is knowing when to implement it and when to hold off
- To help predict crises, use technology designed to help you track how people view your company
- Having clear, direct communication within your business can be helpful during a PR crisis
- Preemptively assemble a PR crisis response team
Many companies aren’t prepared to handle a PR crisis. Sure, they may think they are. However, when the challenge of a PR catastrophe hits, they’re caught off-guard. The cost of a lack of preparedness can be high, maybe even business-killing.
It’s easy to dismiss PR crises as worst-case scenarios that you can avoid if you take the proper steps. While taking an avoidance approach will help decrease the likelihood of PR disasters, it won’t erase the possibility completely.
That’s why it’s better to have plans and protocols in place regardless of how likely you think a PR nightmare is. It is a “better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it” type of scenario.
Common causes of PR crises in companies
Before we get too far, though, we want to run through a few common causes of PR crises. There are a number of things that could land your company in trouble. Social media, for example, is rife with potential PR headaches.
Something as small or innocuous as an unfiltered or insensitive comment could spell bad news for your organization. Even a sarcastic reply to an unkind comment could be misconstrued.
Another example of a PR crisis would be patterns of behavior exhibited by people associated with your company. Basically, you need protocols for any time your organization gets significant negative attention that disrupts workflow or negatively impacts company revenue/stock/etc. It’s vital to have a crisis management plan in place for any kind of adverse situation or event.
The bottom line is that your organization will be much better off if it can plan effectively for possible PR crises. But how exactly do you do that? What can you do to mitigate these disasters?
We’ve put together a quick guide to help you make sure your business is equipped to handle a PR crisis.
Make sure you know what a PR crisis actually looks like
It’s easy to overreact when something goes wrong at your company. It’s just as easy to get caught up in how unfair or unkind it all feels. A bad review on Yelp or a series of nasty emails may not feel great, but those types of things don’t normally add up to a PR crisis.
So what does a PR crisis actually look like? Ask these kinds of questions:
- Can this situation damage or destroy my organization’s reputation?
- Is it a big enough deal to classify as a “crisis”?
- Would the board or upper management panic if they were briefed on what was happening?
It’s important to remain calm and ask these questions. Most of the time, you can come to the right conclusion on your own.
Let’s use the above Yelp review example. After you calm down and think about it, you’ll likely realize that 1 or 2 horrible Yelp reviews aren’t enough to tank your business.
The bottom line is this: being able to define a crisis is crucial to coming up with a PR crisis plan — as is knowing when to implement it and when to hold off.
Assess reputation to predict the likelihood of PR crises
Figuring out what consumers think of your company can be key to ensuring you’re ready for a PR crisis. There are many situations when a company scandal is more predictable (with a bit of research).
For example, an organization with an industry-wide reputation for mistreating its employees or hiring problematic executives is a ticking time bomb. Sure, something may not have happened yet, but that level of scrutiny directed at a single company is bound to expose the skeletons in the closet.
Thankfully, there is now technology designed to help you track how people view your company. You can take advantage of sentiment analysis tools to help you figure out how people are responding to your company’s products, customer service, etc.
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Remember that no company is immune to a PR crisis
A crucial step in preparing your company to adequately deal with a PR crisis is acknowledging that it is possible. No company is completely immune to PR crises.
So many organizations fail to prepare properly because they don’t think that it’ll happen to them. As long as you conduct business with good intentions, nothing can go wrong, right?
Wrong. Unfortunately, even the best intentions cannot guarantee that your company won’t suffer PR trouble. At a certain point, these things are impossible to predict. But you have ways to help ease your anxieties about PR trouble.
With that in mind, it’s vital that you start talking with your team to help devise a game plan. You can’t control every aspect of how the public perceives your company. You have to be ready if and when something goes wrong.
Further strengthen internal communication efforts
Bolstering internal communication efforts is never a bad thing. Not surprisingly, having clear, direct communication can be especially helpful during a PR crisis. This is particularly true for smaller companies with only 1 or 2 offices.
You want to make sure that every arm of the company is working toward weathering — and eventually clearing — a PR storm. It’s easier to ensure this at small to midsize companies.
You can probably tell where we are headed with this. Effective communication is far less likely to be established during a time of intense stress.
You want to make sure that every arm of the company is working toward weathering — and eventually clearing — a PR storm.
Let’s face it: if you wait to prioritize communication efforts until your company is being sued or is in the midst of a scandal, you aren’t going to get the clarity you need. You’ll have offices full of overwhelmed, distraught employees who weren’t guided toward effective communication.
That is why it’s critical that you’ve established communication protocols and patterns before they become key to your business’ short-term survival.
Preemptively assemble a PR crisis response team
This is another critical piece. Assembling a PR crisis response team before you need one will ensure that you are ready for a PR catastrophe.
Think about it this way: not having a few people briefed and prepped for potential PR crises will make a nightmarish situation even worse. When your company is at the center of that much negative attention, the last thing you want is to have your business fall into chaos.
You want to be as calm and as prepared as you can be. Anything less will just make the situation worse.
We know the very idea of a PR crisis can be scary and tough to imagine, which is why the best offense is an ironclad defense. Most (if not all) businesses will be subjected to some level of negative attention. It’s part of running a company.
With that said, trying to erase the potential altogether isn’t a great use of your time and resources. In fact, it could very well end up working against you.
Instead, it’s best to make a step-by-step plan that’ll help you move through a PR crisis with grace and tact. It won’t guarantee immunity from PR catastrophes, but it’ll help you navigate them and come away with your business’ reputation mostly unscathed.