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What to do in the event of a PR Crisis

A PR crisis can happen unexpectedly in business, whether you take your eye off the ball for a second or follow the rules and always plays it safe. Any unexpected event, from faults with your products to issues with your services, can become news to the public, and in turn the media – leading to a PR crisis. If one happens to you, it can cause huge disruption that threatens to harm your business, including your sales, revenue and reputation.   

While you can’t turn the clock back, it’s what you do and how you handle such a crisis that’s important to prevent things going from bad to worse. This guide explains the key things you should do in the event of a PR crisis.  

What to do in the event of a PR Crisis

Understand the crisis, investigate and inform

The first important thing to do in the event of a PR crisis is to make sure you fully understand the issue before you react. You should investigate what’s happened, gather all key information, and speak to the right people in your company to get the full story.

Once you know exactly what’s happened you should inform your customer-facing staff. This might be your customer services team, marketing or social media manager, if you have one. At this point, it’s wise to also decide what they should tell customers or clients if they’re contacted.

Understand business impact, track and gauge crisis

You should then think about what impact the PR crisis could have on your business. Will the crisis have an immediate impact, like customers boycotting your business, or will it affect your future, like sales of a product and revenue? You should also think about your reputation and how clients or customers could perceive the incident. For instance, they might feel your company has a poor safety record or isn’t focused on quality control.

It’s also important to check and monitor the impact of the crisis, such as on the web or social media. Has it become regional or national news, for instance, or is it being heavily discussed on social networking channels? This can help you gauge how big the crisis is: Are hundreds of people talking about it or just a handful? It can also help you understand the sentiment – the view or opinion the public or media are taking.

Identify your crisis team and spokesperson

It’s wise to already have a PR crisis team in place in your company to save time putting one together at this stage. This should include you (as your business’s manager or managing partner) and key employees who lead relevant areas of your company division, such as customer services, sales, or manufacturing. It can also include staff with specialist knowledge of subjects concerning the crisis, as well as a PR expert. It’s worth considering a legal adviser too.

You should also identify a spokesperson, who will speak on behalf of your company or be named in your corporate messaging – see below. It’s wise to have already selected this person and make sure they’re fully trained and prepped. It’s advisable to also choose a senior person with good communication skills, with a title that will work well in representing the company.  

Decide on your corporate position and messaging

Your corporate messaging allows you to explain to the media and public what has happened, give the incident some context, and show what you’re doing to resolve the matter. Your message, which should include a quotable statement from your spokesperson, also helps to control any negative messages the press might have created about your company.

Understanding the full story of the PR crisis, the public and media’s reaction, and the impact it could have on your business can help with your messaging. It can also give you a clear idea of the position your company should take. For instance, if the crisis has led to the media and public criticising your safety record, or lack of attention to quality, you should probably emphasise your excellent business track record in these areas.

You should also make sure your corporate message is:

  • Honest and accurate – you shouldn’t lie or bend the truth. Provide the right information to tackle public perception
  • Direct – it’s advisable not to be vague or tiptoe around the subject to prevent further questions being asked
  • Professional and personal – you shouldn’t use an informal tone or include an unnamed spokesperson. Be serious and use clear, inoffensive, unequivocal language, while being sympathetic to those people affected
  • Responsible – It’s advisable not to pass the blame. It’s better to acknowledge and take responsibility for those mistakes you’ve made

Decide on your channels of distribution

Once you’ve decided on your message, it’s important to decide what channels you will use to distribute it. This might include publishing it on your company website, putting out a message on your social media channels, distributing a press release, or arranging to speak to the media directly via an interview.

Different channels can have different benefits, so it’s important to think about what the best channels will be to get your message out successfully. For instance, social can be a good choice if you’re prepared for dialogue, but it can be difficult to control your message.  Press releases, on the other hand, can be an effective way to get your message out to a wide range of media, while controlling the messages and conversations developing around it.

Monitor, assess and learn

Once your message has been distributed, it can be tempting to call it a day on your crisis, thinking all your work is done. However, it’s important to monitor and assess the reaction to your message and check that your PR crisis is no longer a crisis. When doing this, you should be patient and keep in mind that it might take a few days for things to die down. You should also be prepared to step in and provide an additional statement, if necessary, further down the line.

It’s also a good idea to think about what you’ve learnt from the process to help you better manage a PR crisis in the future. So think about what you felt went well, what didn’t, and what could be improved.

How we can help your business with PR Crisis management

At FSB, we understand the importance of being able to effectively manage a PR crisis and how daunting dealing with one can be. To help our members with this, we provide a PR crisis service. This includes:

  • Public relations consultancy worth £10,000 to help you deal with a major PR crisis
  • Advice how to mitigate negative publicity
  • Protocol advice to follow after a crisis, like how to draft and issue a press release

To find out more about how our services can help you manage a PR crisis, please visit our FSB PR/Crisis Management web page or get in touch with a member of our team.

FSB PR/Crisis Management Helpline from FSB

FSB PR / Crisis Management advice service is here to make your life easier with important information and guidance for a public relations expert to assist you in handling a crisis through RMS PR, a specialist PR agency.

Find out more