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What constitutes a PR crisis

  • Blog
  • 26 April 2018

A public relations (PR) crisis can cause irreparable damage to a business’ reputation..

There are many ways that a PR crisis can develop, and many different events that might constitute one. This article provides some advice and guidance on what kind of scenarios might constitute a PR crisis.

What constitutes a PR crisis

Injuries and ailments

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 some of your customers getting injured while using them.

The reactions to issues like this 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. For example, 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.

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 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.

This might be because of using terminology that can be seen as offensive to some people . Or it could be because of referencing a recent event or tragedy in a way that is perceived as being insensitive.

For example, following the death of singer and songwriter, Prince, the marketing team of Cheerios cereal took to their Twitter account and tweeted the words, “Rest in peace” on a purple background. With both Prince and Cheerios being from US state Minnesota, the intent was to mourn the loss of a hometown musical legend.

However, the decision was made to have a Cheerio dot the I of “in”. This resulted in the public seeing the tweet as more of an attempt to market a brand than a way to mourn a loss. For many people, this was because the hometown connection was not apparent in a global market.

Think of the Volkswagen emissions scandal in 2015. Volkswagen had misleadingly claimed their cars produced far less nitrous oxide emissions than they actually did. Instead of owning the issue and demonstrating a desire to fix it, they claimed nothing was wrong until confronted with evidence to the contrary.

Their reputation did bounce back after an initial plunge in sales and reputation. However, it took expensive compensation packages offered to approximately 600,000 affected US customers, as well as a massively-increased ad campaign stressing the performance and quality of their German engineering.

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.

For example, maybe 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. If you neglect responding to frustrated customers, a situation that could have been more easily fixed will become harder to control, potentially leading to further negative PR.

Making sure you keep a keen eye on your social media, customer support email inbox and business phone line can help you deal with customer complaints effectively.

You should note, though, that 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 have to 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. If you’d like further advice about avoiding issues like this when responding to a PR crisis, read our article on how to counter negative PR.

As well as helping avoid a potential crisis, a positive reaction to complaints can help demonstrate your professionalism to customers. Through your dedication to ensure a good customer experience, you can help customers feel more willing to stick by you as a business.

How FSB can help your business

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.

That’s why our PR crisis management services can be of such help to a business. Benefits of this service include:

  • Advice on how to mitigate negative publicity
  • Preparing, drafting and issuing a press release
  • Guidance documents on how to protect yourself

This service is available as standard with our FSB Business Essentials package. To find out more about this service, take a look at our FSB PR/Crisis Management page. Alternatively, to find out about the range of services and benefits your business could be making use of, take a look at our package comparison page.

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