In today’s world of the 24-hour news cycle and the ability for any person’s tweet, video or image to go viral, it’s vital that all PR professionals are well-versed in basic crisis management. By moving quickly, a PR team can protect a company’s reputation and prevent headlines that damage a bottom line.
Headlines today swirl with news about United Airlines’ recent handling of a passenger on an overbooked flight, Pepsi’s much-maligned advertisement with Kendall Jenner, diversity issues at Uber, and many more PR nightmares. As we’ve seen, many of these stories don’t reflect positively on the companies or employees that are mentioned – causing communicators across the industries to call in crisis management experts or immediately Google “damage control” out of sheer panic.
The best PR professional is a prepared PR professional. To that end, here are a few best practices for managing (or preventing) a potential crisis before it spirals out of control.
- Be prepared. Develop a crisis plan. Brainstorm potential crisis scenarios and use them to inform and regularly update your plan. Craft messaging for reactive statement templates and talking points for the most realistic potential crises.
- Practice. Simply having a plan is not enough when it comes to crisis management; you have to practice it. Everyone who would play a role should a crisis arise needs to know what the plan is and exactly what their role is. Practice talking points with spokespeople often.
- Accept responsibility. If your company is in the wrong, admit it as soon as possible. The public is much more forgiving if a company accepts responsibility for its actions early on rather than if a company backtracks down the road or gets caught trying to cover up a mistake. Equally as important, do not make definitive statements without having all of the information, but don’t let that prevent you from communicating.
- Be consistent. In a time of crisis, keeping messaging consistent is critical – this includes consistency in who is delivering the messaging. The entire communications team and stakeholders should not deliver comments to anyone unless explicitly specified. All inquiries should be directed to the approved spokesperson.
- Operate as through you’re on national TV. As any situation begins to get heated, remember to stay cool and think twice before acting. Today, any person with a smartphone can instantly record a person’s words or actions and share them with a news outlet via something as simple as a tweet.
- Control the damage. Immediately addressing the problem and presenting a solution during a crisis is a great idea, but the company must ensure that the messaging is consistent and actionable. Presenting a solution that will never see the light of day isn’t helpful to anyone and media can see through the insincere response. Be sure to update the press with transparent and attainable messaging.
- Take time to reflect. After the crisis has passed, take time to reflect on what went right and wrong from a communications perspective. Review how you could have better supported your target audience during the time of need and build those steps into your next crisis management plan.
While every crisis plays out differently, these steps are a good start to appropriately managing any situation. Even in the most prepared circumstances, your company’s reputation might take a hit but taking these steps can help to minimize the damage.
RH Strategic is a Seattle and D.C.-based communications firm providing strategic public relations for innovators in the technology, public sector and healthcare markets.