Effective crisis communication is essential for small businesses

Blogs 28 Aug 2020

How you handle a crisis is key when it comes to your business. This guide explains the key things you should do in the event of a PR crisis.

Why is crisis communications important to a business?

Effective crisis communications in business is key to dealing with potentially damaging situation successfully.

While you can’t turn back the clock, it’s what you do and how you handle a crisis that can prevent things going from bad to worse.

It can often be the difference in helping to avoid damage to your sales, revenue and reputation.

 What is a PR crisis?

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 public relations (PR) crisis.

Here are three examples of common PR crisis’ and how you can deal with them.

1. Injuries and accidents

If your products cause injury or illness to your customers or staff, you run the risk of complaints or compensation claims – which could become a PR crisis.

For example, if you’re a manufacturing business and some of your products turn out to be faulty, this could lead to some of your customers getting injured while using them.

What can I do?
  • Pause. Before reacting or responding, take a moment to pause and consider the best course of action
  • Show empathy. Demonstrate that you understand the situation and that you are doing everything you can to resolve the issue  
  • Communicate clearly and concisely. Communicate any changes with your customers, like swapping suppliers or changing your manufacturing process
  • Speak to the experts. A PR agency or specialist can often advise you on the best course of action
2. Poorly-planned marketing

Effective marketing and PR campaigns are essential to help grow your business and bring new customers into the fold. However, if not planned properly with potential public relations impacts in mind, sometimes your marketing efforts can backfire.

This might be because of using language that can be seen as offensive, or it could be because of referencing a recent event in a way that is perceived as being insensitive.

What can I do?

Mike Kirwan, marketing adviser, FSB PR/Crisis Management says: “There are so many ways to get your business noticed that it’s difficult to know which is the most effective to reach your ideal customer. It’s always worth seeking advice from an impartial expert who’ll be able to guide you through the pros and cons of each.”

3. Poor communication

A PR crisis can often start out as something seemingly minor, snowballing into something bigger because it wasn’t dealt with effectively early on.

For example, maybe a recent batch of your products was faulty and a small handful of customers used your social media channels to voice their frustration and anger about the situation. If you don’t respond, or respond poorly, the situation can become harder to control, leading to further negative PR.

What can I do?
  • Plan ahead. Before releasing any product or news always try to predict what issues could arise so that you have plans in place if they do.
  • Keep an eye on your social media, customer support email inbox and business phone line to deal with complaints quickly and effectively
  • Show compassion and empathy. A positive reaction to complaints demonstrates your professionalism to customers

Top tip:

A fast response isn’t always the best response. You might make a quick statement that’s given without all the facts and risk looking less trustworthy in future communications.

How can my business handle a PR crisis?

Now you know how to identify a PR crisis, here are six simple steps you can follow to effectively respond to and manage any crisis situation.

Before a crisis

1. Plan ahead

The easiest way to navigate a PR crisis is to ensure that you are prepared for one. Before you launch a product or service, sit down as a team and talk through any and all issues that could arise. Make sure you draft responses and plans of action for each and that you understand who in the business needs to see the responses ahead of time.

2. Identify your crisis team and spokesperson

It’s wise to already have a PR crisis team in place to save time. This should include:

  • you (as well as your business’ manager)
  • key employees who lead relevant areas, such as customer services, sales, or manufacturing
  • staff with specialist knowledge of subjects concerning the crisis
  • a PR expert
  • a legal adviser

Identify a spokesperson who will speak on behalf of your company, or be named in your corporate messaging, and ensure they’re fully trained and prepared.

3. 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
  • show what you’re doing to resolve the matter
  • provide a quotable statement from your spokesperson
  • control any negative messages the press may have created

For example, if the crisis has led to the media and public criticising your safety record, or lack of attention to quality, you should emphasise your excellent business track record in these areas.

Tips for crafting your corporate message:

  • Show empathy – make it clear that you understand the issue
  • Honest and accurate – provide the right information to tackle public perception.
  • Direct – it’s advisable not to be vague to prevent further questions being asked.
  • Professional and personal – be serious and use clear language, while being sympathetic to those affected.
  • Responsible – acknowledge and take responsibility for any mistakes you’ve made.

During and after a crisis

1. Understand the crisis, investigate and inform

Make sure you fully understand the issue and PR crisis before you react.

  • Investigate what’s happened and gather key information
  • Speak to the right people in your company to get the full story
  • Inform your customer services team, marketing and sales teams of your findings
  • Decide what your staff should tell customers if they’re contacted

2. Understand business impact and track the crisis

Understand what impact the PR crisis could have on your business by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Will the crisis have an immediate impact, like customers boycotting your business?
  • Will it affect your future, like sales of a product and revenue?
  • Will it impact your reputation and how your business is perceived?
  • Has it become regional or national news, for instance, or is it being heavily discussed on social media?
  • Are hundreds of people talking about it or just a handful?
3. Decide on your channels of distribution

It’s important to decide where you will distribute your message. This might include:

  • publishing it on your company website
  • putting out a message on your social media
  • distributing a press release
  • arranging to speak to the media directly via an interview

Social media can be a good choice if you’re prepared for dialogue, but it can be difficult to control your message. 

Press releases are effective way to get your message out to a wide range of media while controlling the messages and conversations developing around it.

4. Monitor, assess and learn

Once your message has been distributed, it can be tempting to call it a day on your crisis. However, it’s important to monitor and assess the reaction to your message and check that your PR crisis is no longer a crisis.

What have you learnt from the process to help you better manage a PR crisis in the future?

How FSB can help

When faced with negative publicly, every move matters.

Our experienced public relations experts are here to support you through a crisis. We’re here every step of the way, with over the phone advice from professionals, and insurance of up to £10,000 in the event of a major crisis.

Affordable PR support you can count on in a crisis

Protect your reputation with FSB PR and Crisis Management. Professional PR advice for small businesses, with specialist crisis communications support and insurance of up to £10,000 in the event of a major public relations crisis.

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