There isn’t a business anywhere in the world today that is wholly invulnerable to a crisis. Although avoidance is clearly preferable, it is essential that you do not take the ‘ostrich approach’ and completely bury your head in the sand should something happen. While it might be the most tempting course of action, neither your stakeholders nor your customers will be forgiving in either the short or the long term.
PR crisis management and public relations can seem complex and challenging, but the following tips should help you to determine how best to proceed should the worst happen.
Conducting intensive crisis consultation sessions are a proactive and efficient way to identify the potential crises your business might face. These vulnerability audit sessions might reveal, for example, that it is possible to prevent certain crises from ever occurring by making a few simple modifications of your existing practices.
Even if this isn’t the case for you, it is still an ideal opportunity to consider potential responses to both best- and worst-case scenarios. Establishing internal protocols and creating a crisis plan template before you find yourself placed under a period of intense pressure will help you to make better and more informed decisions should the worst occur.
It will undoubtedly take time for you to understand the full extent of the crisis you are facing, but if you are asked for a statement, you should avoid ‘no comment’ responses. If the situation is still being assessed, say so.
Communicating that you are working quickly and comprehensively to understand both the big picture and the details will stop people from making their own assumptions or quickly ascribing guilt to teams or individuals who aren’t involved.
While it may be tempting to go into overdrive, taking a step back to consider the situation from all angles will ensure that you avoid immediate reactions that you might come to regret in the future. Pausing external communication for a short time might be helpful – just make sure that the first external communication you make is considered, meaningful and valuable.
Repeatedly stating that issues are ‘being looked into’ isn’t helpful or comforting to anyone involved. Instead, you should focus on communicating how saddened you are by the events that have occurred and issue a meaningful apology, before taking steps to move forwards. Following an apology, make a call to action and detail how things will change in the future – this step is crucial. These measures must be substantial and delivered with a human touch to ensure that people don’t lose all confidence in your brand.
Although it’s only natural to want to fix everything as quickly as possible, there is only so much crisis management that can realistically be achieved in the short term. It is important to understand exactly what you can accomplish within clearly set time frames, but it is also crucial to establish targets to ensure that everyone is doing their utmost to address the issues at hand.
Whether the reaction in the media and online has been particularly bad, or even if there are just a few things that need to be addressed, getting your SEO team on the case as quickly as possible is advisable.
From appointing a crisis communications team or an official spokesperson to developing holding statements to give to journalists, your crisis management plan should be comprehensive, easy to digest and carefully considered.
It is imperative that all customer-facing team members are aware of the management plan and understand exactly how to react. In addition to avoiding unfortunate miscommunications, these team members will be able to monitor their respective channels and keep you informed of important developments that might need to be directly addressed.
In today’s digital-focused landscape, it is unwise to ignore the probability of a firestorm igniting on social media. Even if maintaining your own social media channels is not currently part of your digital strategy, this won’t stop your audience from turning to social platforms when something has gone wrong.
It is imperative to consider the steps you will take if you find yourself in this situation, but make sure that your plan is reviewed frequently because things move alarmingly quickly in the digital sphere.
All crises will impact your business in some way and understanding the damage that has been incurred will help you to determine how you should proceed to rectify your situation. Listen to your team and closely monitor the reaction within your community to determine an appropriate strategy to begin to rebuild trust and confidence in your business.
Although it might not feel like it at the time, you will learn a series of extremely valuable lessons from managing a crisis. Not only will you have a better idea of how you should react to a future problem; you will also identify new steps you can take to avoid any more crises surfacing or, at least, mitigate their impact.
Follow these steps, and you should be on your way to understanding how best to handle a PR crisis. Still got some questions? Give us a shout.