News can reach half the world in minutes through the ever-evolving internet making it easier and easier to share with anyone and everyone. This means that as soon as a PR crisis arises, it’s imperative to get the narrative directed and under control. It’s not easy to turn mistakes into positive action and shift perceptions from the public, especially when there may have been mistakes that caused irreversible consequences. It’s a difficult task, but it’s not impossible, so here are tips on how to handle a PR nightmare.
In an ideal world, before the crisis even hits, your business already has a crisis team ready to go. If you don’t have one it’s important that you appoint one fast as you can to deal with it. Ensure the team is filled with people that know the right thing to say to best represent the brand under pressure. The most effective teams are the ones that consist of in house professionals who know the brand well enough to communicate their message but also external professionals who can view the situation from a journalistic point of view. Together they can analyze the severity of the situation and move on to the next step.
Having a plan in place is essential to the proper management of your crisis communication. Everyone on the public relations team should be made aware of their responsibilities in the process and whether they are to take a proactive or reactive approach to the situation. It also means that every employee, stakeholder, executive, etc. must be briefed on what the initial response is so that if any are shaken down by members of the media the message is the same. This is so your business is not going to deal with the added complication of having to verify multiple statements given by different people. A united standpoint goes a long way in convincing the public your business is worthy of trust again.
The most important thing is to make sure you convey your message with as much transparency as possible and avoid the blame game at all costs. If you admit and take responsibility for your mistake, the public can begin to forgive you faster. The outrage on social media can also begin to subside when you apologize. For those companies with a bigger social media following, the word of an apology would spread faster, so personalize your efforts further by having the founder or CEO apologize, the more visual the more sincere it seems. However, in some cases, it is best to not come out with a statement, such as when a lawsuit has been filed against your business. Issuing an apology can be seen as an admission of guilt and a press release denying the claims also looks defensive, so, in this case, its best to be responsive with other methods.
During a crisis, monitoring your brand’s image is more important than ever. You need to check what is being said about the business, whether it’s within the company or on the internet, you need to keep an eye on what is being communicated about your company to be able to address follow-up questions. According to Reputation Management, companies risk losing 22 percent on sales if there is one negative article about them on a search result’s first page, showing that keeping track of what’s being said about you online is key to handling PR disasters. Other things to check is the conversation being held on sites like Twitter and Facebook to see what the general public think of you rather than the journalistic point of view.
If the accusations against your company are completely false and you have the means to prove so then, by all means, defend yourself. Especially if there has been a lawsuit filed against you it’s important to stand your ground, come out with statements and facts that are indisputable. Take Taco Bell, for example, who came out fighting after they were slapped with a lawsuit over the accusation that the company lied about where their meat was sourced from. The CEO himself came out and refuted the claims and showed they were false. As soon as that became public knowledge the lawsuit against them was dropped. If the press you are getting is genuinely tarnishing your name even though there is no proof in it then standing up for yourself is 100% within your rights. But make sure it’s done with class and minimize the defensive tone as much as possible.
Do not lash out: Even if the accusations are completely baseless it is not the best reaction to come out with a negative tone or blame the other side. Always try to get your point across with maturity and don’t stoop to whatever level the opposing team is on. As long as you have sincerity and facts on your side you should be fine without the need for slandering.
“No comment”: You have to make sure you prepare answers for every potential question. A lack of statement allows journalists to create their own narrative since you do not have one. Especially if there’s a lawsuit involved in a PR crisis claiming no comment is just as bad as accepting guilt and that can be more detrimental in saving face than anything else.
Responding too quickly or too slowly: responding before you have all the facts makes you look misinformed and ill-prepared in front of the press and that won’t serve well when all the facts do surface. However, if you delay your response for too long you give journalists and those on the internet time to create its own version of events, and as said previously, the number one thing you want to do is control the narrative of the crisis.
Overthinking the situation: the news cycle is always short, chances are there is breaking news more interesting than whatever your issue is about, and it will blow over. As long as you use the tips above to handle a PR nightmare as much as possible it will be a thing of the past sooner than you think.
If your companys is experience a postive PR moment, be sure to check out how you can make the most of it here.