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Today’s businesses face countless risks, from compliance mistakes to saying the wrong thing out of turn. A public relations (PR) crisis can topple even the most well-respected company. A press release, worded to announce an impressive new social-impact program your company is launching, should be a good thing until you’re accused of leaving out a key group of people.
A PR crisis is costly and can happen to any company at any time. In our business, we see some of the most well-deserving professionals struggling to keep their brands afloat after a misunderstanding or, in some cases, a false accusation. There are plenty of instances when the criticism is warranted, but what if it isn’t?
Some companies decide to be quiet and wait for the storm to pass. Yet, it takes a simple Google search for that bad press to tank the next partnership agreement or opportunity for a company. What do you do then?
In my years of experience supporting companies through some of the most challenging situations, I encourage you to take action warranted and guided by those who can see what’s happening through an outside lens. Here are the most effective steps to manage a PR crisis.
Managing a PR crisis in the moment
The news hit. The story is out. It’s completely decimating your stocks, and you’re worried about what it will do to your team’s reputation. In that heat of the moment, you need to act not necessarily fast but carefully. Crisis communication requires logic and clarity, not a rash decision that could further paralyze your efforts.
As a successful business professional, you’ve likely learned to remain calm during difficult moments, from equipment failures and losing great employees to times when your company isn’t hitting sales goals. Apply the same type of steady leadership in a PR crisis moment.
Related: 8 Ways to Stay Calm During a Crisis
Develop a response team
Start by developing a group of key people who understand how to react and the importance of responding with the company’s best intentions at heart. This should include a crisis communicator and an in-house professional who will execute your response plan. Assign specific leaders within the company to address the specific situation and allow that person to react. Turn to a media relations company that can create a strategy based on what works.
- Focus first on determining the extent of the damage
- Who is impacted?
- How extensive is this?
- What are the specific implications of the event?
Then, empathize in some way with those directly impacted. Your communication skills here will be critical. Do not admit guilt or fault. Don’t apologize but sympathize with those affected. “We value your privacy.” “We know the importance of providing our clients with the best service.”
At this moment, you don’t need a solution, but you do need a statement. Draft a clear, concise statement that relies on the necessary facts. Don’t lie or leave out critical information that impacts any other person’s safety, health, or finances.
Get tools in place to monitor the conversation
A core component of your success in working through this difficult situation is being able to hedge off more bad news or control the ongoing message. It’s not as easy as it sounds – a good press release isn’t enough.
Consider the use of software to monitor what’s happening on social media. With a 24-hour news cycle, conversations multiply, potentially worsening harm. These tools can help you know what’s being said so you can be proactive.
Criss Management Is an Ongoing Process
With some core steps in place, you’re wondering what’s next. When I work with clients facing a crisis like this, every response is modeled after what’s occurring and the best steps forward. However, there are a few key steps we often focus on.
1. Get a grip
How bad is this, really? You’re angry, frustrated and worried. Yet, you cannot overreact, as that will likely worsen the situation.
2. Act quickly with care
You shouldn’t put off providing some type of crisis communication. Instead, aim to make a statement – even a simple one – as soon as you can work with a professional to do so.
3. Determine the response
What will the response entail? Sometimes this is a monetary situation where you’ll need your insurance carrier on speed dial. Most of the time, though, that’s not what you need to focus on. Instead, focus on helping the people first. What can you do to alleviate your pain right now?
4. Identify what went wrong
We often hear of companies doing this later, pushing off the need to address the cause later. Yet, you still need to acknowledge that you’re working on it. You also need to know what’s put you in this situation so you can prevent it from worsening.
5. Work with those who have influence
Once you deal with the immediate problem, it’s time to start controlling the message. To do that, you need to reach out to those most likely to influence your situation, provide only the information they need, and deliver it in a way they cannot question it.
That’s a lot to ask. It’s simply not easy. Yet, proper PR crisis management can help your organization to pull through, minimize financial loss, and, ultimately, to turn a bad situation into a good one.
I cannot stress the importance of taking care of a PR crisis with careful thought and meaningful, controlled action enough. What you do now helps to control not just the outcome but what people think of your company (from customers to investors) for years to come. You must find a way to afford a misstep here.