S**t Hit the Fan – Now What? Tackling a PR Crisis

PR crises are not usually something you can plan for, and they are certainly not the most glamorous part of PR, but the truth is, they happen. From time to time, s**t hits the fan, and when it does, you need to be ready with a communications plan—not to mention all hands on deck.

Warren Buffett has a famous saying: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” There is so much truth to this statement. I’ve also heard people are more likely to talk about a bad experience they have with a brand than they are to talk about a good one. However, if the brand works with the customer to resolve the issue, the customer is even more likely to be brand-loyal and tell everyone about their positive experience.

Sometimes companies make mistakes, or a product fails, or an employee acts out, but it’s how a company chooses to respond to a blunder that can make or break their brand’s reputation. 2019 saw plenty of PR crises, from Peloton’s “The Gift that Gives Back” controversy to Boeing’s multiple 737 crashes. It is never easy to be a brand in the negative spotlight, but it is especially hard in our fast-paced digital and social world. Word spreads like fire, so, as PR pros, we need to have a crisis management plan in place and be ready to act fast in order to save your brand from serious backlash.

Here are five suggestions to help you deal with PR crises:

  1. Make a plan…before it hits the fan: Before you ever have a crisis, it’s important to have a plan on how your company and your employees should deal with a problem if it should arise. What are the steps you intend to go through and the actions you will take in the event of an extremely negative social post or news story? Not sure where to start? HubSpot has a helpful template that companies can use to get started.
  2. Listen and engage regularly on social media: It is extremely important to be listening, to be patient, and to be responsive with customers on social media and your other customer service channels. If you’re always listening, you can react quickly to issues. And the quicker you dissolve what may start as a small issue, the better the chances that it will never escalate to a crisis.
  3. Own up: If your company is in the wrong, own up to your mistakes. It is important to be honest, transparent, and, ultimately, human. Apologize for your mistakes. Nobody expects companies to be perfect, and if they are a brand advocate, they want to know that you care, because they feel connected to your brand. In general, customers just want to receive the quality product, service, or experience they were promised when they made their purchase or signed a contract.
  4. Keep your cool: When a customer is unhappy, they are more likely to be the most hostile and unreasonable version of themselves. It is important that everyone in contact with customers stays calm, remains patient, and keeps their cool with every single touchpoint. The customer may be in the wrong, but with an even keel you are more likely to talk them off the ledge and solve the issue at hand.
  5. Be consistent: Whatever the response, public statement, or messaging is, do not shift or manipulate it depending on whom you talk to. Inconsistency muddies the waters, causes confusion, and can lead to a bigger crisis if wires cross especially in the media or across social media.

Have you ever experienced a PR crisis at your company? I’d love to hear how you handled it. Reach out to me on Twitter at @erinmrktgpr.

Erin Phillips

Erin Phillips

Account Manager

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