No matter how large or small your business is, it’s possible for a PR crisis to rear its head at any point. If mishandled, it can cause serious damage to your brand reputation which can take time to repair.
The key to damage limitation in this kind of scenario rests on how well the crisis is handled. To set some context, let’s start by outlining two very different examples - one good and one bad…
Pepsi underwent a scandal which could have cost the brand it’s reputation in 1993 when someone allegedly discovered a syringe in a can. Following this incident, over 50 cases of can tampering were then reported across the US. It turned out to be a hoax and Pepsi very swiftly proved it.
Instead of making unclear statements and simply asking for the public’s trust, Pepsi proved its innocence. With the FDA on site, the soft drinks giant produced four candid videos which showed the manufacturing and canning process. The cherry on top came when Pepsi released footage of a customer inserting a syringe into a diet pepsi can in a Colorado shop.
Rather than sitting back and waiting for the rumors to clear, the brand hit the hoax head on and aggressively proved its innocence with clear evidence. The sales of Diet Pepsi dropped by 2% during the scandal but normal levels were resumed after just one month.
Back in 2010, we witnessed the largest marine oil spill in US history, paired with one of the worst examples of PR crisis management. The BP oil crisis was a global tragedy which was only inflamed by the disastrous way it was handled.
BP CEO, Tony Haywood, highlighted the company’s sheer lack of empathy when he declared in an interview that he’d “like his life back.” Unsurprisingly, this was met with an onslaught of public resent. Additionally, the oil giant failed to share any detailed updates on the crisis and even offered any individuals planning to sue $5,000 to prevent any lawsuits.
BP’s clear lack of compassion in such a serious situation was the ultimate example of crisis mismanagement.
Now that we have some real life examples, here’s some tips on how to handle a PR crisis.
It’s clear by the above two examples that a crisis can happen at anytime, completely unexpectedly. However, taking extra precautions in the first place can help to mitigate risk.
Think about your brand, what you offer and how you communicate with your audience. At every step of the process, there will be some room for errors - we’re only human after all. So consider what could potentially go wrong and devise a plan for each eventuality. Get your team involved too so they can consider their actions should a crisis occur.
So, you’ve mitigated risks, but a PR crisis has happened and now you need to act. Firstly, it’s important that every member of staff is aware, starting with any customer facing employees. They will be first to be questioned by the public and it’s important that they know how to respond.
Your social media team will also need to have a clear plan of action and be ready to answer any questions consistently.
Once you and your staff are clear on how to respond to any initial queries, it’s time to work out what actually happened. It’s crucial that you are fully aware of the root cause of the situation and the events afterwards before reacting. Companies that take a quick fire approach in a crisis like this often suffer backlash, so gain full clarity first.
Speak internally to anyone that has a clear insight and factual information on the situation. Then, find out how the public are reacting and what their take on the situation is. Sometimes, this can be drastically misinformed so it’s up to you to iron things out.
Whilst investigating what actually happened, it’s important to gauge how it is likely to impact the business. This is crucial as you’ll need to know how serious the damage is and if your reputation is on the line. Once you have all of this information, it will help inform your next steps.
Now you are fully aware of the situation and have a global view of things, it’s time to put together a statement. You’ll need to be clear on your positioning and ensure the executive team are fully on board. Remember that how you react will be remembered and can either salvage the situation or prove detrimental so take your time with this step.
Once you’re happy, you’ll need to figure out how you’re going to share the statement. This could be on the company website, corporate blog or via social media - whatever works best for the situation.
Depending on the scale of the crisis, people may want further details or a personal statement from a member of the team. The press may be in touch when issuing a release or the public could still be sharing concerns and asking questions via social media. The worst thing you can do in this situation is to simply shut up shop and wait for it to die down.
Instead, show that you’re managing the situation by continuing to react and provide updates where appropriate. Just ensure that everyone internally is on the same page and communicating the same brand position.
Once you’ve dealt with the crisis, it’s important to take away some lessons and share them with the team. Whatever the issue, think about how you can prevent something similar happening in future. Sometimes, a well handled PR crisis can actually show a brand in a more favourable light than before. Just remember, it’s all about handling the situation and ensuring your response is well thought out.
It is also important to note that no matter how swiftly and effectively you handle a PR crisis, the reputation of your brand can drop! What do you need to do if this happens? Give our blog post on 9 Ways to Generate Good PR for your Company a read.
Tackle the problem head on and release a statement about it. Don't wait for things to become viral before responding.
Paul Smith, ODW PR
Imaginaire Digital offer digital PR as part of our digital marketing services, call us on 0115 939 7572 to find out more.