How to handle a PR crisis

Posted by on Aug 25, 2015 in Blog | 0 comments

In business things go wrong and mistakes happen. Occasionally things can escalate to the stage where you have a full-blown PR crisis on your hands and your reputation is under threat. At this point, fast action is needed to ensure the situation is brought under control and managed.

A PR crisis doesn’t necessarily have to cause untold damage to a business’s reputation. In fact, it’s often a business’s response to a crisis that makes or breaks its reputation. Importantly, you only get one chance to get it right so here are a couple of points to consider.

Be prepared

When a PR crisis creeps up and you’re caught off-guard the pressure is on. The simple way to avoid finding yourself in the eye of the storm without knowing how to respond – or without having the time to read the situation correctly – is to prepare as much as you can in advance.

Preparation doesn’t just mean having a crisis communications plan it place. It means knowing enough about the internal and external factors affecting the business to anticipate problems well in advance so that you can lessen any potential damage – or help avoid it completely.

Take time out to consider what is on the horizon that could impact your business. Is there a report due to be released about your company – or your industry – that could be damaging? Is there an impending legislation change? Is it likely that you might need to recall a product in the near future? Has your key competitor gone on the offensive at your expense?

All of these factors, which aren’t out of the ordinary, can be planned for. Whether you have a pre-prepared Q&A, a briefing document or flow diagram listing possible responses to possible scenarios, then you’ll be one step ahead long before a crisis hits.

Monitor public opinion

Keeping an eye on what the public is saying about your business as part of your on-going reputation management programme will help you spot any early signs of trouble.

You’re not in a position to respond to a crisis if you are unaware it is happening or if you fail to understand what public sentiment is or what it was prior to the event, so making sure you monitor the conversation on an ongoing basis will pay dividends long term. When it comes to a crisis, public perception is everything.

Have a crisis management plan in place

From pre-planned flow diagrams and anticipated responses and actions through to establishing who the company spokesperson is in the event of a crisis, there is a huge amount that can be prepared in advance.

Refamiliarise yourself with your business’s key messages, arrange quarterly ‘run-throughs’ in which crisis scenarios are played out. Is your spokesperson the right person to be fronting the media? If so, have they been adequately media-trained. If not, make sure the right person is identified, briefed and fully trained at the earliest opportunity.

Whilst you can never fully anticipate a crisis, you can ensure that the key representatives are fully briefed and that they are able to enter a pressured environment in as calm a manner as possible.

Keep employees informed

Ensure information about the problem and the official response is communicated internally, and that staff know how to respond if approached by the media. In order to control the message businesses should limit the number of spokespeople – ideally to one. Employees also need to be briefed on where to direct any journalists hungry for comment or access to the bigger picture. More importantly, they need to be briefed on what not to say. A simple ‘no comment’ to a journalist will only add fuel to the fire and can easily be avoided by taking the question or enquiry and promising to get back to them with a response within an agreed time frame.

Debrief

Once the dust has settled take time to reflect on the way the crisis was handled – what went well, what could have been done differently and what lessons can be learnt for next time. After all, if it’s happened once, it could happen again.