Hero image of an emergency pull button to represent crisis
20th August 2019
Signal Editors

How to prevent a PR crisis

Your brand’s reputation is its most valuable asset. PR crises can damage or even ruin a brand’s reputation. To be able to prevent a PR crisis you need to be prepared for it.

Crises come in all different shapes and sizes, and causes vary wildly. Whether it’s a poorly thought out tweet (there are too many examples to count) or bad customer service. An offensive or ill-advised advert (hark back to Kendall Jenner solving racial tensions with a Pepsi) will do the trick. Or even the release of a controversial product. (Nike have pulled their Betsy Ross flag sneakers due to Nike spokesman Colin Kaepernick’s assertion of the flag’s association with white “traditionalist” groups.)

There is so much on the line and potential crises are everywhere. As a result, PR professionals know that crisis management and planning is crucial to prevent a reputation-destroying incident.

Image of the Betsy Ross American flag

Nike’s cancelled Air Max 1 Quickstrike Fourth of July sneakers featured the Betsy Ross American flag.

When a brand makes a wrong move there can be immediate backlash. So it’s extremely important to be ready for anything. By following these steps, you may be able to get ahead of a crisis before it explodes.

Identify threats to the organisation

The first thing you need to do in order to plan for crisis is to identify potential threats. An easy way to do this, is to learn from other businesses in your industry. By analysing the crises they have weathered or faltered under, you can gain insight into what works and what doesn’t. Improve your crisis strategy by researching the details of how your competitors deal with crises, scandals, and lawsuits.

This will help you understand possible threats to your own organisation as you learn from your competitor’s mistakes or watch them deal masterfully with the crisis at hand. In addition, preemptively monitoring industry journalists and publications will mean that negative coverage of a crisis doesn’t catch you unaware.

Once you’ve completed an external threat assessment, it’s time to look in-house. Vulnerability audits with every level of employee in your business will facilitate the compilation of a thorough report of any internal dangers or cracks in the veneer or your brand. Much like in a horror film, sometimes the bad guy is already inside the house.

Being able to solve issues internally before they potentially leak is a luxury obtained through proper crisis planning.

Invest time in PR crisis planning

Crisis planning will be different for every business. It can be anything from implanting crisis management steps into your business-as-usual PR strategy to planning for each individual crisis eventuality. Akin to a PR doomsday prepper.

In the midst of a crisis you need to know who in the business to call and when. There should be a comprehensive plan of internal comms to ensure that the hierarchy of key stakeholders is clear. Phone numbers for the heads of each department and their second-in-command should be easily accessible. If crisis strikes while someone is on vacation, you want to be able to get in touch with the interim head immediately.

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It’s imperative to consider the initial media reactions to a crisis. In order to respond effectively, there needs to be internal planning and training on how to respond to journalists when the heat is on. Figuring out an escape strategy may seem like an attractive course of action. Instead, familiarise yourself with best practices for dealing the press and make sure that there’s one line of clear messaging leaving the business. Your story and statements should be delivered with as little spin as possible.

Finally, consider stress-testing your servers. It is of paramount importance that your websites, servers, customer service, and phones can handle the high traffic a crisis will create. The last thing you need is your website to crash whilst customers are trying to get more information. Your website will be a trusted source of information, treat it as such.

Educate customer facing employees

When crisis strikes, it’s not just the CEO and other key spokespeople that need to be prepared. All customer facing employees are unofficial spokespeople and often have more impact on client perception. They are your representatives on the ground, and anything they say while working for your brand can be seen as coming from “inside the house”.

Media training is not just beneficial for your C-suite as the lessons learnt can be translated to on-to-one interactions. So educate your customer facing employees from the bottom up in how to behave in various scenarios. You want them to be prepared and comfortable when under fire from customers during a crisis. Consider providing scripts with consistent messaging and make sure that their knowledge of the situation is up-to-the-minute.

It is still important to keep your C-suite, executives, and key stakeholders prepared and informed. You can use external and internal information sources to educate them on potential crises. Run through “crisis” scenarios with them and provide recommendations on messaging and communication during crises.

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Be ethical and transparent

It’s good to be well prepared for crisis and there are certain methods that customers will value. They will reflect well on your brand and safeguard public perception.

Taking the ethical course of action can take you a long way with the public, though it might not be the easiest solution. Going out of your way to deliver not only a fix, but the right fix can help your reputation recover quickly from the potential beating it receives during crises.

Customers have access to a lot of information so it isn’t possible to hide things or try to outsmart them. Instead of trying to lie, omit or manipulate your customers, choose to be transparent and honest. Transparency helps you control the narrative of your story and regain public trust.

If the public trust your brand, they’re less likely to form an angry mob when you make a mistake. Being able to show a track record of ethically handling crises and never hiding the truth, will provide your brand with much needed leeway in times of crisis.

What if a PR crisis erupts anyway?

If you can’t get ahead of the crisis and prevent it, even with all your preparation, take a deep breath. It’ll be okay.

There are a few things that can help you handle the oncoming crisis. Having the right media monitoring software is the best tool for damage control and spokesperson training, allowing you to see the crisis develop and play out as it happens. With real-time email alerts that enable you to react without losing staff to the process of media monitoring.

Having a media monitoring process in place can ensure that your teams are able to communicate. Internal miscommunication will lead to external miscommunication and panic. Ultimately, it’ll make you seem unprepared to the press.