We’ve all heard of PR crises, it’s one of the first things that people learn about PR and it’s a phrase that’s often overused in the media to describe all of the various dramas that different companies experience with the public. Because it’s such a high-profile term, you might think that a ‘crisis’ like this would never happen to your company, but beware – a PR crisis can be as small as a customer service complaint if it gains some momentum, and it can happen to anyone, anywhere – so surely it’s better to be safe than sorry and to learn how to prevent and deal with these crises if they ever come your way? Yes, we thought so too…
So, what actually is a PR crisis?
A PR crisis occurs when someone in your company does something to damage the reputation of your product, service or company. This can be anything from replying to a customer in an inappropriate manner to breaching anonymity by not properly blind-copying all recipients into an email (we’ve all heard of the recent GUM clinic scandal in Soho).
That sounds pretty nasty – how can you prevent these problems?
Preventing a PR crises is pretty easy if you’re an open and honest company anyway, and if you’re not, then now might be the time to reassess your priorities. Preventing a PR crisis requires you to:
• Be ethical and always put your customers first – the phrase ‘the customer is always right’ will get you a long way in preventing negative public opinion of your brand if you truly take it on board. It also helps to be personal and treat people like individuals at all times.
• Be transparent – make the ethos and practice of your company as public as you can whilst keeping it relevant – and if any problems crop up with complaints, show them exactly how the mistake happened and what you’re going to do to solve it.
• Solve customer problems quickly before they get the chance to escalate into a crisis.
• Always think before you act or post public messages – think about the tone of voice or potential reaction that your social media posts or emails could have before you even send them. Is there any way that what you’re saying could be misconstrued or offensive? We all know the problems with the ambiguity of texting friends and family – sometimes you simply can’t get across the same tone of voice without saying things face-to-face (and remember that your use of punctuation can make a big difference to how your post sounds to the people reading it – the classic ‘Let’s eat, Grandma’ and ‘Let’s eat Grandma’ problem is definitely one to avoid).
And what do you do if for some reason somebody makes a mistake, and a PR crisis actually does happen?
• First of all, don’t panic and don’t post any comments or statements on the internet right away. You need to think about everything first and do some research – knee-jerk reactions are how these things escalate into major issues.
• Use social media monitoring devices and your own research to take the temperature of the public’s reaction. It’s not just about what happened internally but about how it’s being perceived externally, and the public mood and opinion of the problem should influence how you deal with it.
• Brief everyone in your team/company on what happened and decide on the company line – the stance that you’re going to take on the ‘crisis’ and what statements you will release to explain it or apologise for it.
• DO apologise if you’ve done something wrong and don’t try to sweep it under the rug. Being accountable and accepting that you made a mistake is the best thing to do, even if you have a whole list of reasons as to why you were ‘technically’ in the right. That’s exactly what the GUM clinic in Soho did when they faced their recent PR crisis, and it worked wonders for them.
• And finally, communicate frequently and truthfully with the public, particularly in the immediate wake of the crisis. People might want constant updates on how you’re fixing the problem, and if these come directly from you, it’s more likely that your customers will begin to trust you again. You can then monitor how the public opinion of you changes over time on social media to check whether your current approach is effective or not. And remember that strong existing ties that customers have to your company will help to soften the blow of any PR crisis, so it’s best to always be kind and open in the first place (again, lots of people have come out in support of the Soho GUM clinic saying that they believe it was an honest mistake, as they have had nothing but excellent customer service in the past).
So there you go, that’s the lowdown on PR crises. We hope that you never have to deal with one yourself, but if you do, you’ll hopefully be a bit more PR savvy by this point – and you can always ask us for some extra tips if you need them (now that’s customer service…).