Every business is vulnerable to a PR crisis or issues that are impossible to predict. The current pandemic is an obvious example, but even in “normal” times, crisis management can be needed for issues as wide-ranging as staff caught in criminal acts, financial worries, customer service complaints or emergencies such as fire and flood.
Crisis management isn’t only about responding to the unexpected. Effective crisis planning also helps teams identify potential issues and map out the communication, and information you’ll need to deal with them. If your business hasn’t got a crisis plan, it’s more likely to suffer badly when things do go wrong.
What is crisis management?
Managing a PR crisis is all about intelligence, quick-thinking, and the ability to challenge facts and to see the picture clearly with an objective eye. It also requires an intuitive understanding of how people – including your employees, your customers, the media, investors and other stakeholders – are likely to react to the issue in hand.
What are the benefits of PR crisis management?
- Rapid response
In an emergency scenario, having a crisis management plan in place can ensure you are able to act quickly – day or night – to assess what’s happening, who you need to communicate with, and what you should be saying.
- Limit potential damage
In a PR crisis you want be able to take the heat of the situation, to ensure your business can continue to operate and limit potential damage. An effective crisis management plan can help minimize downtime and will ensure that you have a backup for operations during the event and a plan for continuing to grow your business once you have recovered.
- Build trust
Effective crisis communication can help you to keep customers loyal and retain your reputation as an attractive employer. But also, open communication will help minimise fear and confusion among your employees if you’re outlining how you will protect them in the event of a crisis.
So how can a business leader prepare for the unexpected? Here are some of our tips on how best to manage a PR crisis:
Don’t forget to communicate with your team
In the event of a crisis, your team need to know what you are responding to. It may be helpful to refresh their memories on your media policies and offer them social media training. For those directly involved in the response, your team should be aware of their role, such as whose job it is to develop key messaging and who will handle social media. Depending on the situation, you may also need to identify who the spokesperson for the business will be.
Taking responsibility for a PR crisis doesn’t mean admitting you were at fault (although if you are, it’s usually best to say so) but demonstrates that you want to put things right, which will show that you care about your stakeholders. By acknowledging the problem, you take control of the crisis and can set the tone of the conversation. You may still take a short-term hit, but responding calmly and transparently can take the heat out of the situation and shield your business reputation from permanent damage.
Get a response out quickly
Giving a detailed response may not always be practical, depending on the scenario, but you should be proactive and prepare to release a statement that clarifies your position to customers, the media and other stakeholders. Avoid saying nothing or “no comment” when you could let the public know you’re assessing the situation. Be honest and clear and offer support to customers if they have concerns.
Monitor social media
An element of your PR crisis strategy should be to check social media channels. This is beneficial to monitor a developing crisis or anticipate one happening. Look at whether people are talking about your brand in a positive or negative light, from this you can anticipate a crisis arising and have time to prepare appropriate messaging.
Develop a strategy
Businesses without a good crisis management plan can find that the reputational damage caused by an issue is far worse if they have not prepared. That involves working with your management teams to understand how your people work, the resources you have and the risks your company is likely to face. It’s good practice to outline possible scenarios in advance and develop strategies for how you will respond, then make sure everyone across the business understands this.
Sometimes it is impossible to avoid a crisis, but if you can stay prepared, you’ll avoid making the situation worse with inappropriate, rushed responses. Handled well, a PR crisis can become an opportunity by showing how well you interact with your customers and give you peace of mind knowing that you’ll be ready for any situation that comes your way.