You never know what tomorrow will bring, but an unexpected PR crisis is a situation that, although can arise out of nowhere, should always be anticipated and prepared for. Effective crisis management is the ability to act swiftly and efficiently whenever an internal incident occurs that could either severely impact the future of your business, or negatively impact your company’s reputation, to the public as well as to your employees. While this doesn’t necessarily mean you’re dealing with a scandal of unprecedented proportions, instituting a proper crisis management strategy for your team in the event of a possible emergency is what could prevent such a catastrophe from taking place. Let’s take a look at what exactly crisis management is, as well as seven ways you can implement effective crisis management solutions into your company’s public relations strategy:
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:
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.
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 and 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.
Get the Scoop
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. 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.
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.
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. The last thing you want is an employee to feel underappreciated 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.
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 it’s own hashtag. 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.
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 PR wounds.