CRISIS PR & CRISIS MANAGEMENT
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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Why Do You Need an Expert Crisis PR Team?
Whether you are assigning roles to in-house team members or are utilizing a third-party crisis management PR firm, your business’ crisis communications plan needs to include a dedicated crisis team and crisis manager. From executive leadership down, every member of your staff should know who is in charge of each task that will need to be executed.
Working with an outside crisis PR firm is especially helpful because crisis management experts equip organizations with the vital tools needed to react promptly and strategically in the event of a crisis. Smart, proactive individuals and organizations are those who maximize the effectiveness of their crisis response plans by having one in place before it occurs.
Too often, crisis PR experts are called in the event that it becomes clear that an organization’s reputation is threatened. Thus, it is important to be prepared and take advantage of professional reputation repair counsel in advance.
When retained in advance, crisis advocacy experts can help analyze an organization’s potential for vulnerability through a special crisis prevention audit. This helps identify and address any internal communications issues and develops an adequate and effective plan with the proper procedures in place.
It is critical to note that this plan should be distinctive and performed on a case-by-case basis determined by the audit. The experts will develop special messaging to use in the case of an emergency. These individuals are also able to train company CEOs and appointed spokespersons, so they are prepared to handle communication with the public and the press to mitigate the amount of speculation and misinterpretation surrounding the crisis.
These are a few key examples of the critically important services provided by PR and crisis agencies. In sum, crisis communications counsel supports organizations and individuals to plan and prepare for a variation of crisis scenarios.
Crisis PR experts assist in reducing overall damage whether reputational or financial. And in the best cases, crisis communication practitioners work strategically and skillfully to make those reputations even stronger than they were before.