How To

Master the disaster – how to survive a PR crisis

by Sally Ellson |

As much as we would like to live in a world where all PR content is positive, full of likes and shares – unfortunately it also throws a few curve balls at us every now and then too.

Managing a PR crisis whether it’s for a small business or a global organisation comes with lots of challenges.  Reputation is everything and it can be ruined in seconds.  Knowing how to protect that reputation and having a plan of action to manage the issue before the issue manages you is vital.

Today it is difficult to imagine any major event or issue being covered without the input of social media or digital devices. We live in an instant, content sharing culture, where the public have also become the newsmaker.  Video and images are readily available to feed the news cycle and often before any official comment has been made, we can view live content from eyewitnesses at the scene.

So how can you get yourself ‘crisis ready’?  Here are a few pointers to help you master that PR disaster:

Have a plan

It sounds obvious, but creating a crisis plan in advance to include an understanding who are the key stakeholders, their roles, responsibilities and your ways of working during a crisis is the first step in taking control, and helping you manage the issue.  Who’s going to speak to the media? How are you going to brief staff?  All questions that be answered well before any crisis looms on the horizon.

Keep calm and carry on

Staying calm and dusting off the crisis plan is your best course of action. The plan will have been created when you are not under pressure, so have faith it is well thought out and you have all (well most!) bases covered.

With great power comes great responsibility

Take responsibility – acknowledge if something has gone wrong, apologise and be clear about what you are going to do about it.  The public have certain expectations of a company’s response in a crisis. Being quick to react, open and honest will only support your brand values and also build an element of trust with your audience.

Pull out the positives

As PR advocates we would say content is king, but this is why it’s so important to invest in creating good content about a business or brand to ensure you have some positive ammunition to fall back on when things go wrong.  Giving the media a more balanced picture and showcasing your credentials can only help to mitigate any negatives.

Be social media savvy

Don’t overlook planning how you are going to respond and manage social media in a crisis.  Never before have people been able to reach out directly to a brand so easily as they now can through platforms like Twitter and Facebook. You don’t want to fuel a story be mismanaging responses, making an error in tone or not responding in a timely way. The public’s reaction to an issue can also become part of what journalists report on.

And don’t forget social media is an excellent barometer of how damaging an issue is going to be – it can help inform your response and understand the heart of the issue.

A spoonful of sugar

If used in the right way third party endorsements can be very powerful. Third parties act as character witnesses and often carry more credibility than the organisation at the centre of a crisis.

Hit the PR gym!

Putting your senior spokespeople and your communications team through media training can only help you feel more prepared to deal with any level of crisis.  This can often be a tough sell, but can prove its weight in gold when the CEO is door stepped by the media or has to deal with those tough journo questions!

Practice makes perfect

Holding a crisis simulation exercise can be time consuming and feel a little OTT, but in actual fact there is nothing more effective then engaging a business in understanding why crisis planning is so essential. Rehearsing relevant scenarios can give you a valuable insight into how you will react and work under pressure, as well as highlighting where you have skill gaps and giving you a chance to fix these before a real crisis emerges.