There may come a time when an employee tweets an inappropriate joke or a store display sells an inappropriate-looking piece of merchandise. Whatever the faux pas is, it can happen to the most reputable brands or businesses, and these can constitute a PR disaster. If any employee commits PR blunders, taking the offensive material down or removing the offending item from online or brick-and-mortar stores isn’t the solution, especially in this age of constantly prying eyes of social media. People can take screenshots and doggedly remind you of your PR misstep.
So what do you do? You can enact these measures to handle your PR disaster.
Form the Best Response Team
Your business should have a PR crisis response team in place to take care of things like this. If you haven’t done so, hire experts like an online PR agency or task the right employees to form the team that will speak on your company’s behalf. Your team must react quickly and appropriately and speak in the right voice that reflects the company’s values. The best response team should ideally consist of longtime in-house communicators of the brand, along with outside experts who can offer a broader, more journalistic view.
Brief Your Team About the Strategy
Define your strategy on how to tackle the PR crisis. A simple “no comment,” removing the offensive material, and acting as if nothing happened is not a good strategy. Decide on whether your approach will be reactive, like replying to comments about the issue when asked, or taking a proactive stance where the matter will be addressed in a press conference or post about it on your social media.
Before enacting your strategy, take the time to make your response team understand their responsibilities and the ways to tackle the issue. Inform all involved who may be approached by the media about how they should direct any inquiries. That can save the company the trouble of being perceived as having an inconsistent message, explaining comments from unauthorized persons, and clearing up unofficial statements.
Send Your Message Out ASAP
Whether you choose to send your message out reactively or proactively, craft your message well and send it out fast. Gather the facts about the incident, and agree on how to frame your reply. The quicker you reply, the quicker the online bashing of your company dies down on social media.
It’s of great importance to be honest and transparent with your audience. Think of the most appropriate way to address the issue and the actions your company should take. The sooner you apologize and admit your mistake, the sooner you will be forgiven. You can take advantage of your social media presence by issuing your message there. You can make it personal by having the CEO or President apologizing for the mistake.
Don’t Jump the Gun
While it’s essential to address the issue right away, some instances of keeping silent about it may be a better strategy. That applies in situations where there are unknown facts and if the apology can be considered as an admission of guilt. In this case, it could create more blowback that can go out of control. If it is inadvisable to issue an apology, hold off on it and reassure your audience that you intend to issue a statement soon.
Speak to the Affected Parties
Determine who needs to hear your message the most, such as customers, the media, employees, stakeholders, and business partners. Your audience will depend on the situation, but whoever they are, make sure to send out the message to them promptly. Send messages or have a press release sent to friendly contacts who are more likely to present your response to the issue in an objective light. Media outlets are quick to pick up stories as soon as they break, so you must have prepared statements handy before reporters swamp you.
Monitor and Learn from the Situation
Your brand’s post-PR-crisis reputation is vital and should be closely monitored. Have your team track what people say about your company online. Keep a close eye on communications to address follow-up questions or concerns. Take note that companies risk losing 22% of their business with a negative article that pops up on search results. Establish monitoring systems to uncover negative comments, and address them before they become bigger issues and spill onto the media. After the crisis, do a post-crisis review and look at what was done, what worked, and what didn’t. Discuss what could have been done differently and what changes are needed to prevent other future crises.
No brand can come out unscathed when a PR disaster occurs, but the damage can be minimized, and mistakes can be corrected. If your brand or company has a PR crisis, respond at the right time by being honest, taking responsibility, apologizing for the mistake, and taking concrete action to correct it. Analyze what worked to rectify the situation, and take steps to make sure future PR disasters are prevented.