Brands and businesses know how important it is to protect their reputation. In the midst of a crisis, reputations that have been so hard to build can be easily destroyed and the effects can be hard to undo. It doesn’t take much to provoke a crisis, sometimes just a simple mistake on social media can be enough. But other times share values falling sharply, lawsuits, contaminated or dangerous goods, investigations, or even a new, slightly controversial, marketing tactic you couldn’t wait to try may be enough to damage a brands reputation and enter a real crisis period.

Today’s fast-paced digital world presents a challenge as customers expectations are higher than ever meaning brands are expected to have full transparency and communicate openly. Because of this open narrative, often people take straight to social media to call brands out – when historically you may have just sent an email to complain. Nowadays, it can all be done in the public domain. This means that things can quickly be picked up by the press and seen by millions of people before you have a chance to get it under wraps – which is why it is more essential than ever that you are prepared for a PR crisis.

How to prepare and fix a PR crisis

Each PR crisis will affect each company, brand or individual in a different way – that’s because they’re all different. And not every company has an appropriate response to that specific crisis. This is where effective PR crisis management comes in.

Here are five ways that your company and brand should prepare for a PR crisis.

1. Create a written crisis plan.

Nobody wants a PR crisis. But what will help you prepare is spending the time to go through all potential crisis situations and prepare a PR crisis plan. Your plan should include:

  • Who are your crisis response team? These will be the people who will decide if it’s a PR disaster and whether you need to execute the rest of your plan.
  • Who will act as a spokesperson? It should be someone with authority to speak on what has happened. But don’t immediately choose your MD – reserve them for if the crisis escalates.
  • What will happen if a crisis does happen. Will your customer service team receive an increased amount of calls, what about your website and social media channels? Who is monitoring those?

Once your plan is written down it will be easier for the team to manage the pr crisis situation, rather than dealing with everything in an ad hoc manner.

2. Invest in social listening and media monitoring tools.

One of the best ways to preempt and even avoid a crisis is to have monitoring tools in place. Your social media team might already have something for responding to customer service issues. Good monitoring tools will enable you to monitor for rising negative sentiment amongst your customers and across the wider industry.

3. React quickly with FACTS not opinions and take ownership of the problem.

If your crisis escalates it is important that you respond quickly to address any concerns or media scrutiny. But it is important to make sure your crisis response is based on facts and not opinions.

Offer a heartfelt apology and take ownership of the problem – don’t attempt to blame it on any external factors. When you apologise and accept blame you will demonstrate your humility behind the brand and people are much more likely to forgive humans than faceless brands.

4. Use all your communications channels

Your business probably has multiple communications channels that you use regularly – website, blog, social media platforms, Make sure you use each of them to push out your statements and updates to your crisis until the issue has settled.

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And don’t forget to pause any scheduled content to ensure you don’t look like you are ignoring the crisis.

5. Create a long-term content marketing campaign – for effective reputation management.

One of the lasting effects of pr crises is that it sticks around in your Google search results. To counteract these search results you should create a content marketing plan for your brand name and targeted search terms – through blogging, contributing to industry-leading publications and promoting good news through press releases and effective corporate communications.

In a perfect world, your customers and stakeholders would only judge your business on the merits of your products and services. But unfortunately a crisis can strike at any time.

As long as you have a plan in place to address it and execute it, then you’ll be ahead of the curve.

What is a PR crisis?

A PR crisis is every businesses worst nightmare – but it can, and does happen to even the most prestigious and well-meaning brands.

It can be defined as a brand, organisation or individual receiving negative or damaging publicity. They can be very serious and with social media increasing in popularity and reach, a crisis can very easily go viral within a short space of time. However, it is important to realise that negative reviews (unless it’s a large volume over a short period of time) or low-profile customer service missteps are unlikely to turn into a full-blown crisis. This is why it is important to prepare for a PR crisis.

Recently Yorkshire Cricket Club underestimated the power of social media and conducted a master class on how not to respond to a PR crisis.

The key to any crisis communication is to be proactive, transparent and accountable. Unlike a lot of brands in 2019 that failed to do so. For example, Chinese telecommunications company Huawei was accused by the U.S. of being a security risk and a thief of commercial secrets. When these accusations were brought to light in the media, the CEO failed to talk to reporters or appear in a public sense – intensifying the perception of secrecy and possible complicity with the Chinese government. This lack of communication was a poor mistake as it resulted in damaging media coverage causing reputation issues for the brand.

Another example is high street retailer H&M who provoked chaos all over the press and social media when they released a poorly thought-out ad of a young black boy wearing a hoodie that read “Coolest monkey in the jungle”. Many people found it to be racist and inappropriate, but the company only reacted by sending out their first apology a day after – a day too late some might say. Good practice wasn’t followed as neither the CEO, the chairman, nor other higher-ups’ names were associated with this crisis or found in the apology post.

What effect does a PR crisis have on your business?

Businesses face PR crises all the time. For huge brands and corporations, a crisis isn’t fun, but it can be managed. They have the resources – like money and expertise that they can call upon. Whilst others don’t have this luxury – which is why it is important to spend the time preparing for a crisis situation.

Successfully managing a crisis and navigating a PR disaster can have serious repercussions on your bottom line. Even the smallest incident can derail your entire business.

How do you know if you have a PR crisis?

A negative situation can happen to any business, brand or individual. Maybe you have received negative reviews, which although you might not like the content, can be managed by looking at processes and improving your customer service responses. Then there are situations that can lead to a potential crisis. Perhaps you have hired badly with one of your key executives, or there has been a significant increase in negative comments and online mentions.

Every situation needs looking at and assessing the risk to your brand reputation. And if you’re wondering whether something is a PR crisis, think about the following questions:

  • Was it serious enough that it has gone beyond your marketing or PR team to manage?
  • Has your management or leadership team had to get involved?
  • Are you receiving a lot of journalists asking questions?

If you have answered YES, then the likelihood is that you are at the starting point of a PR crisis. But there is still time to act to ensure it doesn’t have any long-term effects on your brand. It’s time for your crisis communications efforts.

How to create a crisis management plan?

Recent years have seen a large number of high-profile crises affecting brands that will have long-term repercussions on their reputations. A crisis can hit at any time which is why companies need to be prepared with a crisis management plan. But where and how do you make a start? Here are five key elements of how you can create a crisis response plan.

  1. Align the crisis plan with the operational plan. We support our clients with creating their crisis plans, and one of the first things we do is review current policies, any operational or emergency plans. It is vital for all these plans to work together, as it has the potential to cause confusion if one document says one thing, and then another says something completely different. It can lead to a problem if a scandal does take place.
  2. Assign crisis team members and know how you get in touch with them. Every crisis communication plan has the steps needed, and the contact information you need to notify and get in touch with your crisis team. It’s also important to consider a backup in case someone is not available. It is important to ensure that the team is made up of people from across the company, not just from your communications and public relations team. Think about bringing people in from human resources, health and safety, as well as legal and customer service. Every function should be represented in the PR crisis response team.
  3. Understand your risks and make them part of your pr crisis plan. Central to planning for a crisis (that you hope never happens) is to identify any risks and run scenario planning for each one. This will enable you to find out if you can take steps now to correct the situation and avoid the crisis in the first place. Some situations will not be preventable, and in those cases, you’ll certainly appreciate the time you took to plan what your response would be to the situation. You’ll already know what information you need, what your initial steps will be, and you’ll even have an idea of how you need to communicate an appropriate response if a crisis hits- whether that is to your key stakeholders, your customers, or even just your own staff.
  4. The importance of training your team for a PR crisis. Training the PR crisis team on the plan, and going through it together step-by-step will often identify any gap in the communication or overall operational process, which would lead to worsening the crisis if not addressed at an early stage.
  5. A crisis management plan can become outdated. Businesses and priorities can change rapidly and your team members move to different roles. Ensure that you have a plan in place to regularly review and update your plan.

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Preparing for a PR Crisis Before It Happens

Warren Buffett famously said it took 20 years to build a reputation and 5 minutes to ruin it, and with that idea in mind, it is vital for business leaders to implement a PR crisis management plan in order to avoid any kind of scandal.

Planning before a crisis happens will help you prepare for the worst-case scenario, and help you save your (or your company’s reputation).

How do I prepare for PR disasters?

Many businesses and brands will face difficulties when it comes to restoring their online reputation and profitability should disaster strike and they face a public relations crisis.

Some companies such as airlines, telecoms and media publishers are risking long-term damage as shown in recent cases when the public have called for boycotts, or sponsors have backed out of deals. With companies now understanding the benefit that preparing for a PR disaster it is important to invest in the time and resources needed.

When it comes to a PR crisis the key is to be prepared as opposed to trying to figure out what to do once everything is going wrong – if it reaches this point, it’s a little too late!

Getting your crisis team to work out all the possible scenarios and having a plan is essential. It means that you know who your spokespeople are and what they should say in case A, B, C, or D happens, whether you should run a press conference, how you should deal with criticism on social media, and just how quickly you should be to respond.

Having an appropriate plan in place with all relevant bodies on board is essential and will stand you in good stead should you face a PR crisis. And remember, crises’ are not only public-facing as they can start within your company – internal comms should be covered too!

It doesn’t matter how much you plan or how well you manage threatening issues – news travels fast on social media. If everything seems to be falling apart and the press is on the doorstep, you require an immediate short-term strategy to deal with the situation as well as a long-term communication plan to reinstate your brand and restore your reputation.

Investing in the best PR agency that offers a crisis management strategy will cut the likelihood of a disaster in the future as well as provide high-quality PR and social media management, so come and talk to us today.

As the old saying goes, if you fail to prepare – you prepare to fail.

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