What Is Crisis Management?
Essentially, it’s a company’s worst nightmare. We’ve all seen the headlines – The BP oil spill, millions of Toyota models being recalled for safety violations, the E-coli scare with Chipotle. Even one wrong tweet or Facebook post can have your business in the news for all the wrong reasons. Obviously, no company is perfect, but having a crisis management team ready to take on a slip up of any magnitude is what separates organizations from bouncing back or crashing and burning.
From the top of the totem pole to the bottom, everyone who works for your company has their own agenda. What’s not in their repertoire is knowing what to do during a moment of panic. Having a crisis management strategy in place is what will help keep everyone in your company on the same page, as well as help restore order so they won’t have to worry about the situation and stay focused on their own tasks at hand. Now let’s take a look at the primary examples of how to handle a PR crisis.
What is The Crisis Management Process?
When a business crisis strikes, be prepared with a plan. Below is an quick, 7-step crisis management process that everyone on your team should be aware of:
- Awareness: Give everyone on your team the necessary information in order to understand the crisis at hand. From marketing reports to legal implications to potential news cycle length.
- Understanding: Take a deeper dive into the issue – who broke the story? How did they position your company? What type of media is re-publishing or printing their own? This will help develop a response that's better tailored to quash negative press.
- Implementation: Map out your plan, assign specific spokespersons, contact friendly journalists in your network.
- Declaration: Make your official statement, whether it's through a written release, social media post or live press conference.
- Gather Feedback: Be transparent, be open to questioning and use a data management system to track your various crisis management assets across the web.
- Resolution: Give time for the news cycle to die down. Did your efforts work, or will you need to put further resources into stamping out negative coverage?
- Recovery: What can you do to ensure this crisis never repeats itself?
Crisis Management Tips
Let's take a deeper dive into specific ways you can respond to and avert future business crises. If you're between a rock and a hard place, consider the following tips to mitigate negative outcomes.
1) Establish A Team
Before a potential crisis even occurs, you need to know who is going to be the people responsible for gathering information on the incident, as well as who is going to be the primary spokesperson and face of your company during a period of turmoil.
When it comes to rounding up a team to handle these types of PR cases, you’ll want to assemble a smaller group of your top executives, as too many voices of authority may only add to the friction. Along with them, get a few of your most experienced PR or HR workers, and assign one of them to the role of spokesperson. This person will need to understand that they’ll be fielding all the tough questions and should remain calm and confident while up against possible extreme backlash from the press or consumers.
A good idea to prep them for such a crisis is to organize fake press conferences, where you and the PR crisis team can create a fake scandal and see how they handle the pressure. Also, conduct lightning-round questioning sessions, where the participant is quickly asked a series of tough questions in quick succession. This helps you better think on your feet, in case any journalists start asking tough questions.
2) Anticipate the Worst
The biggest mistake a company can make in the wake of a PR mishap is the thought of such an event happening never crossing their minds. Conducting meetings with your PR crisis team at least once a month to brainstorm possible problems, setbacks and how to control them is a simple way to prepare you and your staff in case trouble ever hits the fan. These meetings can even help you and your staff prevent possible catastrophes by tweaking certain operational methods you currently have in place, and at the very least will allow everyone to be on the same page if a PR misfortune occurs.
For example, many PR teams were able to anticipate the recent COVID-19 pandemic that’s causing business crises around the country, thanks to smart, early planning.
3) Get the Scoop
Whether you run a Fortune 500 company or operate a small business, the second you get wind of any incident that could produce negative consequences, you need to be in constant communication with anyone amongst your staff who has insight to the occurrence. Getting ahead of a story before it goes public is the best way to potentially resolve a PR crisis, as when an incident ultimately does go public and you don’t have all the facts, the scrutiny will only multiply.
Recently, a mega-grocer Giant Food, which operates out of the East Coast, had a major copywriting fail, when it used some unwise words in an advertisement: "Hosting? Plan a Super Spread", bringing implications of spreading COVID-19 during the holiday season — probably not the idea you want to give your target market in these times. The ad made the rounds on social media outlets, and even got some shout-outs in late night television monologues.
In a related vein, if it’s a customer complaint of extreme severity, immediately reach out to that customer, attempt to meet in person, and provide a variety of resolutions, be it refunds, discounts; any means necessary to settle the conflict before they start telling other people about the mishap and it snowballs out of control. If it’s an internal conflict, round up your entire staff for individual interviews to gauge which accounts of the incident are consistent, and which reports seem to be false.
4) Transparency is Everything
So many times with PR crises, the thing that comes back to bite the company at hand is their inability to accept responsibility or be open with the public regarding the spotlighted incident. Honesty is the most underrated tool to use for your crisis management strategy, and genuinely apologizing and accepting responsibility is the only way you’re going to receive forgiveness, no matter what the severity of the situation is.
Your choice of words is extremely important as well. Avoid phrases such as, “We’re looking into it” or “We cannot comment at this time”, as these words will only escalate the public’s doubt. Always apologize up front and promise that your company will do whatever it takes to resolve the misfortune.
In addition, take a moment to pinpoint the geo-locations where negative press may be most prominent. For example, if you're an events-based company in Bloomington, track the rise in traffic from your specific locale. In Analytics, go to Audience > Geo > Location and drill down into your desired country/state/city. You can also then set your Secondary Dimension to "Source/Medium" or "Referral Page", and that will show you if those users are coming from negative sources. If you see a sharp uptick in users here or some other spot, you can better target your crisis response efforts based on location.
5) Keep Everyone in the Loop
It’s easy to forget about how your employees feel about a PR crisis when having to deal with any public backlash, but keeping your staff in the loop on everything is just as important as working with media and consumers. This is where a crisis communication plan will come in handy.
The last thing you want is an employee to feel under-appreciated and potentially go public with any information, be it true or false, that will only add to the fiasco. This goes for any stakeholders your company has as well. Constantly update them with any new information you receive on the situation, and outline to them how you’re going about handling the PR crisis. Remaining silent on your part will only increase employee and shareholder anxiety.
6) Stay Socially Active
In today’s world, a PR matter doesn’t evolve into a crisis until it hits social media. In matters of seconds, thousands of people can click “share” on a story involving your company, until next thing you know, the situation is trending and has its own hashtag.
United CEO response to United Express Flight 3411. pic.twitter.com/rF5gNIvVd0
— United Airlines (@united) April 10, 2017
Just as you need to keep your staff notified on how you’re dealing with a problem, you should constantly be updating your Twitter feed, Facebook, or any other social media accounts you use to ensure to your loyal clientele that you have everything under control. The more you remain dormant on social media, the more people will assume that the problem is out of control.
7) Collaborate for Solutions
From fixing a minor software bug to addressing a massive scandal, your company will need to work with everyone from all sides of the business to come to a common solution. Take any feedback you get from employees or customers seriously, and bring their ideas to the table for your crisis management PR meeting.
Be open to suggestions on how to take action toward forgiveness, be it volunteer efforts, donations, etc. Working with everyone will help the public see how willing you are to get back in their good graces, and time can heal any wounds to your brand’s image.
Bonus Tip: Run An SEO Campaign
If there's been any media reports about your fudge-up, it's time to start an effective SEO campaign in order to push down negative critiques about your product, service or brand. Making the right statements and marketing them properly via your website can make a huge difference in how your company is perceived when researched on sites like Google.
While you can do this yourself, it's best to hire a professional who can work quickly and effectively. A Minneapolis SEO company, for example, will put the correct strategy in place, so you can rest easy knowing things like keyword targeting, link building and content development are taken care of.
Is your business facing a crisis of epic proportions?
The team at Frahm Digital develops results-driven crisis response plans that help quell negative press online. Whether you need SEO services, press release writing, media outreach or other PR assistance, we're here to help.
If you're interested in learning what it's like to work with us, click the button below to receive a no-hassle, 100% free website audit. We'll give you actionable insights on ways to improve your communication, design and SEO.