Steps to Take When You Find Yourself in a Public Relations Crisis

PR crises are liable to hit you when you don’t expect them. Perhaps they were served with a lawsuit. Maybe a supply chain was derailed because of some sort of health hazard. The CFO of your company might have said something inappropriate that went viral. Waking up to find your company making headlines would normally be a good thing, but if it entails bad news, you could face a public relations crisis.

Some people believe that any type of press is good press. However, as someone who has coached countless clients through negative PR scenarios, I can personally tell you that this belief is false. People who have this belief are not mindful of “cancel culture.” This entails customers boycotting a company with no provocation (or very little of it).

Nowadays, organizations are held to high ethical standards. Customers remain informed thanks to the Internet. Even though nobody wants bad press, sometimes it is unavoidable. This begs the question – when you are hit with bad press, what should you do?

I’ll tell you what you shouldn’t do – panic. Take deep breaths, then consider the following steps.

Think About How You Will Respond Publicly Very Carefully

Set a meeting with your attorney and PR agent. Get both of their opinions and make sure that whatever steps you take, both of their perspectives are in sync. Determine what type of stance to take, then factor in repercussions for those decisions.

Know Who You’re Speaking To

What type of audience are you trying to convey your message to, and what order will you reach them in? Your customers, employees, investors, and members of the board must be brought up to speed. The situation will go a lot better for you if these people find out about news and actions taken from you then through a third-party, like the media.

If data breaches are involved, or if your company is publicly traded, legal disclosures might be required, and they must be followed to the letter.

Find Your Voice

Are you doubling down or apologizing? Will you be deferring to some type of authoritative voice? Will systematic upgrades be made? Are you taking advice from others, or is your position firm?

Clarity is of utmost importance before your company makes a public response. Act quickly to establish a stance that acknowledges the issue – one that remains authentic with your brand. The position you take should progress towards solutions that are beneficial to you.

Set Boundaries With Your Team

Make sure your employees understand who should (and shouldn’t) speak to any media outlets, and how they should react if they are approached by the press. A crisis could become exponentially worse if someone in your organization – well-intended as they may be – says something before a plan has been enacted.

Fine-tune what say when you have decided on a position to take. The last thing you want to do is get in front of the camera and talk off-the-cuff. You shouldn’t come across as robotic, either. The best type of response in such cases is to put things in writing.

The platform this response is posted on and when it is seen is just as important. Should it be seen on your site? A social network? A broadcast interview? An official press release? This is something you should carefully think about.

The spotlight should be used as a platform to articulate the message of your brand well, and display empathy for this scenario. The problem-solving abilities you have will come into play here. Your response should be on-brand, heartfelt, transparent, and quick. Take responsibility for any elements you need to. Wait until all facts are gathered and evaluated, and a resolution has been decided upon. Most importantly, do not place blame on anyone.

Come up with Preventative Measures to Use in the Future and Take Responsibility

Implementation of preventative steps is of utmost importance, particularly with regard to serious issues like cybersecurity breaches. The last 12 months have been an eye-opener for organizations that haven’t taken cybersecurity as seriously as they should have. PR crises ensued for these companies shortly afterward.

For instance, Capital One’s recent breach was considered to be a PR nightmare. After data was breached, the company lost approximately $4 million. Granted, the company may be responsible for up to $3 million overall. Nonetheless, the high cost of this hack – among other types of PR nightmares – resulted in broken customer and consumer trust.

No matter who receives blame for a data breach, the amount of sympathy given by customers will be minimal. For any type of PR crisis, you must retain the trust of customers, even if you are not legally responsible for the breach. In any type of crisis (whether that entails worksite accidents, data breaches, or poor product quality) that involves a loss of trust, your first priority should entail accepting responsibility and resolving the issue.

Win Back Customers with Discounts, Reimbursements, and Deals

What do you do after a PR crisis goes down? Your patience will be tested, keeping in mind how fickle customers are.

Nonetheless, they can be won over by giving them consistent attention and support. It doesn’t take long for outrage to transpire, and such outrage can escalate fast in this digital era we are in. If your communication endeavors are effective, you have taken responsibility, and resolved the issue, you can then work on making things right with customers.

Regain Trust Again With Your Customers

After handling responsibilities, give them something tangible and sweet to regain their trust. Reimbursements and discounts attract customers and entice them to return to your company. You’ll get an opportunity to provide them with experiences that are positive once again. Be generous during this time.

Subscriptions can be upgraded to a premium level at no extra cost for any users that are affected. Discount memberships can be introduced to allure new customers. If you had a mobile phone that exploded, buy them all back. Work on developing an improved version that is explosion–free.

Negative experiences can be isolated through creative measures in order to retain the positivity of your brand’s identity. If a PR crisis is handled well, customers will be inclined to remain loyal.

In closing:

  • Begin with a well-planned response that is on-brand and transparent.
  • Accept responsibility for the issue by resolving problems that stimulated it. Preventative measures should be implemented to prevent future occurrences.
  • Make things right by offering customers something that matters to them.

Note: never try to spin the issue, dodge it, or cover it up. A PR crisis serves as an opportunity to reveal how mishaps are handled by your company.

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