It doesn’t matter how hard you try to do the right thing, your business isn’t immune from experiencing the occasional PR crisis. And when you do experience a crisis, it’s imperative that you have a plan in place for handling the issue before it balloons into a bigger problem.
Don’t Wait for a PR Crisis to Emerge
If you wake up tomorrow morning and get a phone call on the way to the office that there’s a major PR crisis facing your company, would you know how to respond? Would you go into panic mode, or would you be able to confidently implement tangible steps to limit damage and overcome the underlying issue?
The vast majority of businesses have a reactionary approach to PR crises, which is natural, yet largely ineffective. And as these businesses often discover in the middle of a situation, reactionary crisis management doesn’t stand a chance of quelling a major fire. The only way to get ahead is by adopting a proactive, forward-thinking strategy.
“Changing perspective and becoming proactive in approach requires anticipation of the future,” PR professional Sophie Chadwick writes. “It involves an examination of the surroundings in order to understand the challenges that are ahead and how best to create the promotional tactics required to succeed.”
In other words, truly adopting a proactive crisis management strategy requires you to think about challenges, risks, and threats around the clock – not just when they come to fruition. And though it’s a major shift in thinking, it’s entirely necessary.
5 Tips for Handling a PR Crisis
Now’s the time to think about how you’ll handle a PR crisis – not when you find yourself in the middle of an incident. The following tips will help you formulate practical strategies and rules around this idea:
- Anticipate Crises Ahead of Time
While it’s best to prevent them altogether, your business needs to become adept at anticipating crises ahead of time so that you can respond swiftly.
In some cases, you’ll know that a crisis is about to come. For example, you might be preparing to lay off 20 percent of your employees or launch a controversial new product. In other situations, it’s likely but not certain. For example, you might publish a piece of content that takes a controversial stand on a hot-button issue. And even though you’re unsure of whether people will respond positively or negatively, you have to be prepared for the latter.
- Assign Specific Roles for Each Team Member
One person can’t handle a major PR crisis. In order to overcome an issue, you’ll need everyone to step in and play a part.
“Assign concrete roles and responsibilities, and then sit down as a team to discuss timely, concise and on-brand messaging regarding the event in question,” John Deveney writes for PR Consultants Group. “Without an action plan, crisis management will quickly devolve into chaos, only increasing your company’s chances of a hurt reputation.”
Understand which people in your company are best at leadership and communication and give them more prominent roles. Those who don’t exhibit as much of these traits can still help, but should be involved behind the scenes.
- Be Proactive, Transparent, and Accountable
Whether or not you believe your company is in the wrong isn’t typically relevant (except in cases where you believe that your stance is ethical and moral). If you don’t take swift action, your reputation can be lost in a matter of hours.
As one PR expert explains, “The tenets of any crisis communication are to be proactive, be transparent, and be accountable. When put into action it looks like this: acknowledge the incident, accept responsibility, and apologize.”
- Shape the Story
Social media has transformed the entire face of PR crisis management. Whereas you once had a few days to respond to an issue, you now have a couple of hours.
If you let the media and marketplace take control of your crisis, they’ll create whatever story they want (and it probably won’t be favorable to you). On the other, you have the option to step in right away and shape the story as you see fit. If nothing else, putting your own spin out there will help others understand your motivations or reasoning.
Finally, make it a point to breathe. Handling a crisis can be stressful and you can’t let it impact other areas of the business in a negative manner. By taking some time to relax and settle your mind, you’ll stand a better chance of approaching the crisis with poise.
Do You Have a Game Plan?
A crisis can be isolated or widespread. For the most part, widespread, invasive crises are the result of a poor PR crisis management strategy. By thinking about potential risks, threats, and challenges ahead of time, you can develop a solid game plan that gives your business the best chance of rising above issues and finding freedom from the damage that major crises can inflict. Are you ready to adopt a proactive approach?
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