Protecting your company during a PR crisis

Tom Chapman looks at how to prepare for the moment when your business comes under negative scrutiny.

It is almost impossible to overstate the importance of a company’s reputation in today’s connected world. Those with a strong image will be seen by consumers, investors, and shareholders as a dependable organisation; something with authority which will produce great results every time.

Unfortunately, with the rise of social media and the internet, a company which has spent decades creating their image can have it destroyed in a matter of hours. In its most basic state, a customer who has a bad experience at a restaurant can write about it on Tripadvisor. In turn, this gets seen by the community and shared. Eventually it can progress into a PR disaster and may negativity impact the organisation for years to come. 

No business should know this better than Dominos.

In 2009, two of the pizza company’s employees published a video online showing themselves doing disgusting things to the firm’s products. Within a short period of time, more than 760,000 people had viewed the clip while others had re-posted it onto forums and websites.

Meanwhile, the company took two days to respond to this video, publish an apology, and issue arrest warrants for the employees. Yet the damage had already been done and public perceptions of the brand had been severely damaged.

If two rogue employees can cripple the reputation of a business in a matter of hours, then imagine the effect that larger PR disasters can have. Fortunately, firms can implement a number of solutions to quickly diffuse a crisis. Fortunately, firms can implement a number of solutions to quickly diffuse a crisis. The information contained below should help firms deal with any reputation issues which arise.

Prepare for every possible disaster

The first step to managing any crisis is to have a plan beforehand. While it can be hard to determine possible threats to an organisation’s reputation, company owners should sit down, brainstorm, and discuss every possible threat.

For example, restaurant owners might wish to consider:

  • Pests or other infestations
  • Bad reviews or poor customer service
  • Building-related issues, power failures, and structural problems
  • Crime and threats from disgruntled employees
  • Health and safety or workplace accidents.

As well as preparing for the worst, companies should have a plan for what happens when good things happen. Responding favourably to a positive review, for instance, can help improve a company’s reputation.

Organise a dedicated team to deal with PR disasters

When a PR disaster occurs, it is vital that you have a dedicated team on hand to deal with it. This group should include a spokesperson, back-up spokesperson for when the first spokesperson is unavailable, the CEO, top executives, PR professionals, and representatives from relevant departments. 

The team should then receive special training to ensure they know how to respond to media queries and difficult questions. Furthermore, they should always understand and know how to convey key messages, deliver prepared statements, and to do so consistently.

Develop a strategy

Although every strategy should incorporate key messages and get the company’s point across, there are a range of statements which should be prepared in anticipation for a crisis. These include:

An FAQ document. A prepared document with common questions and answers can be very useful for a PR team. Moreover, this sheet means that all personnel will be answering queries in the same manner, creating a consistent message.

Establishing facts. When a crisis occurs, it is vital that staff gather as much relevant information as possible. For example, it is important to understand how the disaster occurred, how your company is responding to the situation, and measures which are being used to contain it.

Understanding all the facts before making a comment. If you fail to do so, this could lead to you making false statements or spreading misinformation. Potentially, this could harm your company even further.

Never saying ‘no comment’. Although this may be the default answer in times of crisis, saying ‘no comment’ just suggests guilt. Moreover, this prevents you from telling your side of the story. If you are pushed to comment, always take the details of the journalist and get back to them when you have the facts sorted.

Act immediately. Pretending the disaster doesn’t exist will only harm you in the long run. Plan to act immediately after the crisis occurs.

Contacting shareholders and customers

Although some may wish to keep stakeholders out of a PR disaster, it is wise to inform them at the earliest opportunity. Once the story breaks, those who are connected to your firm will hear about the incident anyway and will probably feel hurt that this news came from the media. Instead, notifying them helps improve your image as a responsible organisation. 

During a PR disaster

If you follow the information in this article, you should be prepared for when a PR crisis occurs. As long as you have your facts straight, a plan organised, and are ready for the situation, the effects at the very least should be minimised. Furthermore, if you can do all this while staying calm, then it will only reinforce your message and show that you have nothing to hide.  

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