The speed of information distribution in the media has given us more than one vivid example of how the reputation of a business is ruined in minutes because of one unfortunate incident. Of course in the case of a new online betting site, there are low risks to face a crisis. However, bigger brands face it more often. When a company is struck unexpectedly, the PR strategy and communication with partners, clients, and the public solve everything. You are the center of attention, and there is no escaping it. Every word you say will be examined under a microscope.
What to do? Act decisively and carefully. First, figure out what occasion you have to work with. There is a planned negative, the main advantage of which is the predictability of events and the time to prepare. Let’s say the business is preparing staff reduction or the nearest financial report isn’t encouraging, and everybody knows it perfectly well. Of course, you shouldn’t wait for hot headlines about it in the media, you need to work with key speakers and be prepared to explain the causes and consequences and the measures which the company is ready to take to resolve the situation. When the reason reaches the public, you will be ready.
The other two cases are more complicated: predictable and unpredictable negatives. What is the difference between predictable and planned occasions? You are not exactly sure about event X, but its probability is quite high. For example, the departure of the top manager from the company, which everyone has been talking about for a long time, or the failure of an important transaction. Here the work is carried out on Plan A: you prepare and collect the basis of arguments, talk through the company’s position with its management. Strong PR specialists always have algorithms for such events, from negotiated quotes to releases. If event X happens, you already have a plan and you stick to it.
Challenges happen, and no one is immune to them. The third type of PR case is the most difficult because you can’t predict it. The reason for a storm in the glass can be a real incident: an industrial accident, a defect, a service failure, or a small but dramatic mishap. Sometimes an unfortunate tweet by an ordinary employee, rude or intolerant, causes a barrage of angry comments on the brand. The clock is ticking here, and getting out of a crisis will depend on the ability to keep a cool head and act quickly. Here are the main steps to solve unpredictable troubles.
An Instant Response
Forget about long approvals, because the sooner you respond, the better it will be for the company and the brand. This is the main rule. Silence is interpreted as ignoring the situation or simply as having nothing to say. Even if the emergency happened at night and you can’t reach management, it’s appropriate to apologize and tell them the company will make an official statement soon. It’s better if you tell the media what’s happened, without making any assessment or promises, than to have the details made up for you. Don’t start rumors.
Prepare Your Speech
You acknowledged the incident and promised to come back with an explanation. You have bought time, and you need to prepare a balanced explanation. Everything is possible here: you should get a clear position from people at the decision-making level in your company, which you will broadcast. Prepare your commentary no later than the workday on which the unpleasant incident happened. Facts are better than emotions. Tell in detail what the company plans to do to eliminate the consequences of the negative incident.
Company information availability is another key rule in a crisis. It may not be easy to stay in touch around the clock, but it can mean a lot to your company, and those days can even be crucial to your career. If there’s a company emergency, it’s not the time to take care of yourself. Journalists work both early in the morning and late at night, check the availability of your contacts on the corporate website, open your social media profile, add personal messengers and communication channels to your signature in your email template. Your job is to make sure that the media gets the most information firsthand. The crisis won’t last forever, and you’ll gain powerful and important experience.
Here’s a sad but telling example. For Malaysian Airlines, the two Boeing 777 crashes in 2014 were a huge blow. It caused enormous problems, but the company had no clear plan of action, and the vague reaction to the tragedy exacerbated the situation. Relatives of the victims accused the airline of withholding information and lack of transparency, and the media criticized it for the way they reacted. A stock crash, rebranding, and the appointment of a new director followed.
Choose the Main Speaker
If something critical happens in the company, management can become chaotic for a while. People simply do not have time to coordinate with each other’s positions and actions: everyone solves the problem as he or she can. That is why it is important to choose one speaker who will communicate with journalists. If several people give interviews, their words may differ in nuances and details because of the general confusion. From the outside, it will look as if you are hiding something. All contradictions can be used against you.
By admitting your mistakes, you do not sign away your defeat. Admitting mistakes is more about the company’s ability to take responsibility for what happened. In Japan, the culture of public apology is very developed: management’s remorse can be shown on prime-time TV. And it is part of the culture. Western countries have a different mentality, but a company’s sincere apology has never ruined any case. It’s better if someone from the management addresses these words.
Tell Your Audience About Your Steps
When it is clear to everyone what happened and how it was, you need to show that the company is not only skillfully covering its head in ashes, but also is capable of taking concrete steps and actions to resolve the situation. The emphasis can and should be shifted from the incident itself to ways to overcome the problem. Don’t deceive the audience: present your plan of action and inform the media about how it is being implemented, what has been done concretely yesterday and today. This is where the company’s heroes come into the picture, and it is appropriate for you not only to write press releases but also to use photos and videos – maximum details and an emphasis on the positive.
Work With Different Media
All PR people divide publications into several categories according to their impact on public life. If A-issues are your indicator of the public importance of a topic, the conventional C-issues can serve you further to work out the details. The major media always keep the hottest agenda in focus, but it changes very quickly. If you get to level A with a crisis issue, you won’t stay there for long, and then you have to work with B, C, and even D bloggers because information spreads very quickly anyway.
Most importantly, keep your head cold. This is your biggest challenge and your finest hour. Many professionals have lost their jobs because of harsh statements online and in the media. Remember, your skills are tempered in a crisis.