Employing a successful crisis response is a difficult but necessary task. Those responsible for navigating the crisis are accountable for how it can affect employees, clients, stakeholders and society at large.

Steps to Execute in Order to Manage a PR Crisis

From embarrassing executive scandals to a flood of negative online reviews, public relations crisis can take a variety of forms. Unfortunately, no business is immune to a crisis, and when one strikes, companies are often put into a panic. The compulsion to act—and act quickly—often intensifies as the media grows more curious and aggressive.

Employing a successful crisis response is a difficult but necessary task. Those responsible for navigating the crisis are accountable for how it can affect employees, clients, stakeholders and society at large. Therefore, having strategic preparation and recovery plans already in place before you have to craft a crisis response is key.

Frequent communication is one of the most important steps to keeping your employees at ease during this stressful time. To start, leadership teams should attempt with transparency and honesty to demystify the fears associated with the crisis while outlining the steps the organization is taking to protect its employees.

What Constitutes a Crisis?

All companies are vulnerable to succumbing to a crisis. According to PwC’s Global Crisis 2019 survey, nearly 7 in 10 leaders have experienced at least one corporate crisis in the last 5 years — with the average number of crises experienced being 3. Yet, a study from Deloitte shows that the majority of companies do not have a plan in place that prepares them to respond effectively to unforeseen circumstances.

A PR crisis can present itself in many ways. A product released to the public must undertake a recall. A board member at a company makes an offhand statement that does not sit well with the public, prompting an eruption on social media and leading to negative reviews online. Two employees at a company make inappropriate comments outside of work that leaves the entire company tainted.

As you can imagine, a lot of crisis management is acting proactively on instances that at face value may not seem like a disaster but can explode into a crisis. How you handle these says a lot about your company and can also determine the long-term success of your brand.

Essentially, a PR crisis is any negative publicity that affects your business and your ability to operate at peak capacity. Due to the fact that crises are often unpredictable and hard to control, you need to ensure proper planning and training and develop a protocol for your team under a thorough crisis response plan. Having a plan in place will aid in prevention and reduce the impact from a crisis hitting your business when you least expect it.

The first few hours of a crisis are the most consequential, and without a strategy in place that allows you to respond quickly, recovery can be difficult. If your business is facing a PR crisis, here are a few best practices to implement:

  1. Create a Crisis Management Plan
    Since the nature of PR crises is unpredictable, it is crucial for organizations to have a crisis management plan in place, as well as an appointed crisis management team to help navigate the emergency. A seasoned crisis management team will ensure that the right people are speaking on behalf of the company and are executing an approach that is designed to subdue the chaos and restore the organization’s reputation.

    It is difficult to foresee the exact trajectory of any given crisis; therefore, all parties involved will need to stay on high alert until the situation is resolved. During this time, it is up to the organization and the appointed crisis management team to consider all possibilities and scenarios. Essentially, for every plan of action, there should be a strategic back-up plan at the ready.
  2. Craft Your Response to the Public
    Addressing the public and the media is one of the most important elements in navigating a PR crisis. Responding to the public with honesty and transparency (and without avoiding blame) is usually the best route to take. Trying to minimize or “cover up” the severity of the crisis will only make it worse.

    Take the Boeing 737 Max crisis, for example. After the Lion Air crash, Boeing’s former CEO Dennis Muilenburg continued to insist that the 737 Max was safe for travel:

    “We know our airplanes are safe,” he said. “We have not changed our design philosophy.”

    After two deadly crashes, it was apparent that these aircrafts were far from safe, and Boeing’s lack of transparency in its response to public concern hurt more than it helped. Now, the aerospace company is still struggling to regain trust from consumers and partners as it attempts to recover from this crisis.

    No two crises are the same, however. It is best for companies to always consult with their crisis management team before responding to the public.
  3. Monitor the Situation
    With the right strategies in place, the heat from a PR crisis will eventually die down, and organizations will be able to return to their normal day-to-day proceedings. However, it is imperative to keep a watchful eye on the media and to act cautiously when interacting with customers, partners, journalists, etc. Organizations should monitor online review websites, social media platforms, user-generated content and media outlets daily to ensure they are attending to any negative messages.