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4 Rock-Solid Steps to Help Conquer a PR Crisis

Nobody wants to deal with a public relations crisis. Unfortunately, assuming the best—without preparing for the worst—is a surefire recipe for disaster. How can you protect your business from a public image problem? And how can you work to help your organization rebound quickly if the worst does happen?

The following are four ways your business can plan to mitigate problems before they turn into worst-case scenarios.

1. Plan, Plan, Plan

You might think you have everything handled in case of an emergency. But consider all the possibilities that could go wrong—for instance, what if your product injures a customer? What about when someone is hurt on the job at your brick-and-mortar location? Or what if a former employee begins spreading rumors about your leadership on social media?

Jeannine Sherman, communications consultant and Marketing Director with the Wisconsin Historical Society, states that developing a comprehensive communications plan before a crisis hits is vital. "Without a plan, you risk losing control of the narrative, and that's the last thing you want to do."

2. Clearly State Roles And Responsibilities

Providing protocols to follow during a worst-case scenario is essential. While every PR crisis is unique and unpredictable, having clearly laid out systems and processes during an emergency can bring some order to the chaos.

Consider what role you should take on as the lead decision-maker of your business. Can you speak intelligently about your company under media pressure? Or would you instead designate another high-profile member with media training as your spokesperson?

"A thorough assessment of roles, responsibilities and readiness is key," Sherman notes. "Whether it's you or someone else, it's important to have one point of contact with the media."

Additionally, outlining non-media roles during a crisis can help when disaster strikes. For instance, production leaders should investigate and determine the cause of a product failure if it happens, and HR managers should look into former employees who are intent on harming your business image.

3. Prepare For Surprises

Some things can't be put into a crisis management plan. Despite this, it's still possible to use tools and forethought when approaching situations you aren't entirely prepared to happen. The following are some ways to plan in the face of uncertainty:

  • Consider what level of elevation is necessary: While it may sound simple, putting your particular crisis on a ten-point scale and determining its severity can help you manage a situation after it happens. For instance, whereas a harmful product failure might be a nine or ten on your scale, a disgruntled former employee may only be a three. Putting together a press conference for a minor issue might only draw attention to the problem, whereas refusing to acknowledge a significant mishap can create further bad press. 
  • Use the right spokesperson: Depending on the severity of the issue, it pays to consider who should speak to the media. If the scenario is severe, the business owner should talk directly to the media to convey trust. Otherwise, a spokesperson might be better for low-profile situations.
  • Develop new messaging: Don't rely on boilerplate messaging for a new crisis. Writing and sharing messaging points throughout your organization can help bring every employee under the same umbrella and prevent colleagues from worsening a bad situation.
  • Mum's not the word: The only thing worse than saying the wrong thing is saying nothing at all. Remaining silent—especially when faced with a significant issue—opens the door for other companies, media, and individuals on social media to further undermine your public image. 
  • Make messaging available to others: Your messaging points should address all your audiences. Work to develop specific communications for customers, suppliers, shareholders, and competitors. Then, spread that messaging through appropriate channels such as social media, press releases, conferences, and more.  
  • Approach messaging as a dialogue: Depending on the public's reaction, you may need to tailor and re-create new points that speak to your audiences more effectively. In other words, don't adopt a "set it and forget it" mentality. Let your message be a dialogue that evolves with time.

4. Practice Your Approach

Lastly, before a crisis hits, practice your approach. Like a fire drill, performing a communications crisis drill can help you prepare for a real PR nightmare. With some due diligence, you and your team will be much better equipped to manage a worst-case scenario if and when it occurs.