Organizations of any size are at risk of a PR crisis. In today’s world of social media connections, all it takes is a hint of wrongdoing or scandal and the story has the potential to reach millions of consumers very quickly. Sometimes it’s a minor setback, and other times it’s a true crisis that can ruin your reputation and profitability.
It’s important to act responsibly, even when the bad press is no fault of your own. Consider the Tylenol poisoning scare of the 1980s. Johnson & Johnson handled it well, and it’s still a bestseller today. It’s essential to recognize developing problems and to act appropriately. Here are some do’s and don’ts for handling your PR issues.
Have a Plan
Do have a strategy for addressing crises. Put together a team with skills in social media, public relations, HR, IT, project managers, and marketing. Empower one or two executives with proven leadership skills to activate this team when a priority crisis starts to unfold, and put them to work on the situation until it’s been handled.
Know the Facts
Do gather all the relevant information. Before you respond, Ensure that you understand what happened, when, where, and why. Determine the scope of the damage and the risks involved. Have the facts in hand before you make a public statement or speak with journalists. Being evasive, flippant, or just plain wrong will only invite more scrutiny and more backlash.
Do take advantage of social media. This can do your company damage as a platform for rumors and gossip, but it can also work to your advantage. It’s all about the face you show the public. Being defensive or a tendency to counter-attack are negative approaches. But being conciliatory, empathetic, and helpful are always positive, whether you admit wrong-doing or not.
Keep in Touch
Do follow closely what’s happening in the media as the crisis unfolds. Knowing what people are feeling and saying is important to formulating a suitable response. Don’t be in a situation where you’re blind-sided by allegations and false reports that you didn’t see coming. Satisfied customers are what matters. Make an effort to keep in touch with them every step of the way, through CRM, social media, chat, email and other channels.
Do create a post-crisis plan for reclaiming any lost customers and prestige. Focus on making new connections and solving problems. Rebuild your image, even it means losing money and making changes. In 1996, Odwalla Foods faced federal charges and multiple lawsuits after an E. coli outbreak. They paid out over $8 million and lost a third of their customers. But rebuilt trust by emphasizing substantial improvements to quality control and safety processes.
Ignore the Problem
Don’t procrastinate. Even in small crises, you can’t afford to wait it out and hope it eventually goes away. The internet never forgets, and neither will your harshest critics. Address the problem immediately and find a way to handle it effectively.
Don’t overlook your employees as a resource. Most of them will have a social media presence of their own. Try to get them involved as brand advocates, and have them stimulate and develop the PR conversations that you want to take place.
Disrespect the Customer
Never bash your consumers. It’s easy for the public to see profit-focused businesses as the bad guys, and you don’t want to reinforce that. Think about the United Airlines exec who dismissed a bloodied passenger as “disruptive” after millions watched the video of a 69-year-old surgeon being brutally manhandled. You can’t afford to alienate customers.
Don’t fall back on the ‘no comment’ response. To curious and skeptical audiences, that’s just another way of saying that you refuse to acknowledge the problem or are fearful of making a statement. It implies either guilt or ignorance, but it also shows a lack of concern.
ASK FOR HELP
Smaller companies in particular may not have the time or the resources to properly respond and maintain control of bad press. Think about allocating the funds necessary to hire an online management firm to help you both survive the crisis and rebuild your brand.
Check out the following infographic for more on crisis management: