Keeping calm and carrying on: When a PR crisis hits
26 October 2021 at 7:00 am
In a climate of political tussles and global health debates, bad PR has become a salient and standard part of our lives. Jo Scard explains how to navigate through the hurdles of a PR crisis in a simple step-by-step process.
We live in a unique time: the media landscape is dominated by politics, the news cycle is as turbulent as ever, and the participatory nature of the digital public sphere means that things move really quickly.
As an outcome of the closures and lockdowns of the global pandemic, virtual spaces have become a key arena for commentary and debate. People, from all corners of the world, from all walks of life, and from all sorts of industries, are weighing in on social discourse.
More than that, the opinions of the wider community have never been so loud.
They’ve also never been so influential. With new opportunities, comes new challenges. With consistent movement, comes new vulnerabilities. When the market is fast and ever-changing, brands can be at risk of backlash if they make a wrong move or say the wrong thing.
A PR crisis can hit at any time – sometimes, no matter the plans we have in place, or the steps we’ve taken to ensure disaster doesn’t strike, it still can. Overnight, our communication strategies can do a full 180, and our PR teams can be forced to try and mitigate damage as quickly as possible.
But that doesn’t mean that it needs to be a scary or stressful thing. The prospect of losing a brand reputation that you’ve taken years to build can be a terrifying one, but it’s how you respond to crises that will set you apart.
So, when a crisis hits, it’s important to do everything in your power to protect the reputation of your organisation and to reverse any damage. But how do you actually do that?
Assess the damage
First and foremost, take a step back and properly reflect on the root of the issue. What went wrong? Who is reacting? Who have you offended? How do you recover? What kinds of key messages do you need to get out there in order to diffuse the situation?
When a crisis strikes – no matter how big or how small – it can be easy to get swept up in the anxiety of it all, but it’s imperative that you remain calm so that you can make rational and practical decisions. Whether you use a mind map or call a team brainstorm, properly evaluate the problem at hand, so that you can successfully lead yourself to the smartest solution.
Consider your next steps
From there, work out your best plan of attack. A pros and cons list can help you to identify any further risks associated with your next move, and it’s always a good idea to use somebody external to the issue as a sounding board. For example, you could reach out to stakeholders or clients that you have strong working relationships with or invite colleagues from outside of your teams to sit in on issues.
Most importantly, find somebody outside of the issue. Pitch your plan to them and assess their response. If you don’t have a specialised team already established, involve a skilled PR team or experts with demonstrated experience in crisis management and communications.
Release an official statement
The next step: communicating your key messages to your audiences and providing your supporters with clarity. Whether you need to apologise or need to illustrate how the crises didn’t align to your underlying ethos, ensure that your official statement is written by a professional communicator.
The biggest mistake you can make in a crisis is releasing a poorly written statement, or something that the media could poke holes in. You don’t want to inflame an already volatile situation and, therefore, it’s imperative that you lean on a public relations professional.
Don’t make empty promises
Another mistake you can make is trying to reverse the damage by promising something that you don’t mean. We know that we’re living in an era where the community can sniff out insincerity. It’s important that your response is authentic, but also practical and completely feasible.
For example: do not promise a commitment to something that is unlikely to happen or ever be achieved. Instead, identify actual, legitimate steps that you will take, and how you plan to do it.
Reflect and recover
Every PR crisis is an important and valuable learning experience. More than that, it’s an opportunity to reflect on your communications strategy at a higher level. What’s working? What isn’t? How can you ensure that what happened doesn’t happen again?
Once the dust settles, ask yourself what you learnt, and how you can continue to improve your reputation through authentic, consistent, and honest messaging with your audience. Most importantly, keep to any promises you make, and show your supporters, clients, customers, or stakeholders that you are genuine.
If you need help with crisis management, strategic communications planning, media outreach, or government engagement – we’re here to help. We have award-winning expertise and experience in helping not for profits and community-based organisations to tell their stories. We really care about what we do, and we do extraordinary things. Get in touch today at fiftyacres.com.au