How to avoid a PR crisis

Blogs 3 Nov 2021

How can you protect your reputation and avoid a PR crisis? We share three examples of potential scenarios that could happen to your business and what you can do to prevent them.

What is a PR crisis? 

A public relations (PR) crisis can cause irreparable damage to your reputation if negative publicity isn’t dealt with effectively. Whether it’s a bad review online or something more serious like faulty products, there are many ways that a PR crisis can develop. It can happen to any business, so knowing how to spot the signs can help you to prepare. PR specialists at the Federation of Small Businesses share three examples of a PR crisis, what could happen, and how you can take steps to mitigate it.  

1. Poor communication 

A PR crisis can often start out as something seemingly minor, which begins to snowball over time into something bigger because it wasn’t dealt with effectively early on. If a recent batch of your products were faulty, and a small handful of customers used your social media channels to voice their frustration and anger about the situation, it can quickly escalate. If you neglect to respond to unsatisfied customers, a situation that could have been easily fixed will become harder to control, potentially leading to further negative PR. 

Stay alert  

Keep an eye on your social media channels, customer support email inbox, and business phone line to deal with any customer complaints effectively. You should also monitor your online review platforms for any negative reviews.  

Use a holding statement 

A fast response isn’t always the best response. You might make a quick statement that’s given without all the facts in mind, and you must retract and contradict yourself down the line. This can make any damage to your reputation worse, as you risk looking less trustworthy and believable in future communications. A holding statement can act as a placeholder until you have all the facts available.  

Turn it into a positive 

As well as helping avoid a potential crisis, a positive reaction to complaints can help demonstrate your professionalism to customers. Through your dedication to ensuring a good customer experience, you can help customers feel more willing to stick by you as a business. Our guide to responding to negative reviews includes template responses that you can adapt for your business.

2. Injuries and accidents 

One possible issue that could develop and become a major PR crisis is if your products cause injury or illness to your customers. For example, if you’re a catering business, some of your customers might contract a bout of food poisoning after a meal you’ve provided. Or if you’re a manufacturing business, some of your products might be faulty, which leads to customers getting injured while using them. 

The reactions could range from customers complaining to their friends and family about your business, to more severe reactions, such as seeking reimbursement of medical costs or compensation.  In cases like this, it can be helpful to demonstrate that you’re taking steps to ensure similar issues don’t occur in the future, which can help negate some reputational damage. You could announce you’re changing suppliers, or that you’re adding an extra step to your manufacturing process that will help add extra diligence to your production processes. Health and safety training or updated documentation can also reinforce this.  

3. Poorly planned marketing 

Effective marketing and PR campaigns are essential to help grow your business and bring new customers into the fold. If not planned effectively with potential public relations impacts in mind, sometimes your marketing efforts can backfire – even if you had the best intentions and never anticipated it becoming an issue. 

In some cases, a particularly bad and damaging PR crisis can develop almost instantly. Your response to the situation should be quick and thorough while demonstrating a desire to improve and fix the situation.  

  • Establish an approvals process to ensure marketing materials, online content, and social media posts are checked by fresh eyes before publishing, to ensure it aligns with your brand 
  • If you use social media a lot for your marketing, a social media policy can work to protect your reputation by setting guidelines for your team when posting content  
  • Take time to plan your marketing activity so you know what’s on the horizon and can reschedule posts if something happens 

In all cases, having a solid PR crisis plan in place can help your business to act quickly and effectively. However, dealing with an escalating situation, especially one that is more complex, can take time away from running your business, which is why professional support can be so valuable.  

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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