A PR crisis can happen to any organization, big or small, so you need to be well-versed on the right way to handle a PR crisis. There is a plethora of worst-case possibilities – product recalls, data breaches, viral negative posts, and many more.
This is why it’s extremely crucial to have a crisis communication plan in place even before anything happens. This way, if your organization does find itself in a worst-case scenario, your team would know how to navigate the situation.
As part of the crisis communication plan, your team needs to know these important dos and don’ts to successfully handle a PR crisis.
How to handle a PR crisis: The Dos
#1: Be a step ahead and control the narrative
If your organization finds itself in a situation, break the news before it even reaches your audience. This way, you get to control the narrative and communicate your carefully crafted key messages. Ensure that the key messages demonstrate accountability and empathy.
#2: Make an official statement as quickly and transparently as possible
Time is of the essence when you need to handle a PR crisis. The longer you wait, the more serious the situation can be. Be quick to address the situation and provide updates as new information becomes available. Also, be transparent with your stakeholders about what happened and what steps you’re taking to resolve the issue.
#3: Take responsibility in your statement
If your company made a mistake, it’s essential to apologize and take responsibility via an official statement, interview, or press release. This will help show your stakeholders that you’re taking the situation seriously. Moreover, it will demonstrate a commitment to making things right.
#4: Appoint persons-in-charge for the implementation of the crisis communication plan
As we know, every company should have a crisis communication plan in place before a crisis occurs. Moreover, this plan should outline who is responsible for what tasks, how the information will be communicated internally and externally, and what steps will be taken to address the crisis. Ideally, these people will be your ‘crisis unit’.
#5: Use social channels to your advantage
Social media can be a powerful tool during a crisis. Use it to communicate with your stakeholders, share updates, and provide information about what steps you’re taking to address the situation.
Social media is crucial to successful communication during a crisis. You need to monitor social media closely and respond to any negative comments or misinformation promptly.
How to handle a PR crisis: The Don’ts
#1: Ignore the situation
Ignoring the crisis is a horrible way to handle a PR crisis. In fact, it may even exacerbate the situation, and it won’t disappear on its own. Therefore, it’s essential to acknowledge the crisis and take steps to address it promptly. By doing so, you can mitigate the impact and demonstrate to your stakeholders that you are taking the situation seriously.
#2: Be defensive
Being defensive can have detrimental effects on the situation. Instead, it’s crucial to take responsibility and show your stakeholders that you are committed to making things right. By taking ownership of the situation, you can rebuild trust with your audience and demonstrate your company’s integrity.
#3: Lie or mislead
Being open and honest with your stakeholders is crucial for maintaining your company’s reputation and rebuilding trust. Misleading or lying to your audience can have severe consequences and lead to a loss of credibility.
#4: Wait for the crisis to blow over
It may be tempting to just wait for things to blow over, but the risks could be quite disastrous. Taking proactive steps is always the best way forward. After all, you need to address the situation right away and show the audience that you are serious about preventing it from reoccurring.
#5: Forget about your employees
Don’t forget about your employees during a crisis. They’re also impacted by the situation and can be valuable allies in resolving it. Make sure to communicate with your employees and keep them informed about what’s going on.
ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) issues are increasingly becoming part of crisis communications. Organizations must now take these matters into account during their crisis response. This is especially crucial in this day and age when ethics factor into consumers’ decisions.
Luckily, organizations can build their stakeholders’ trust by transparently communicating their actions to address ESG issues. Demonstrating their commitment to sustainability and social responsibility also helps with this.
Here are a few ways to do so:
- Transparently provide detailed information on any environmental/social impacts resulting from the crisis. Additionally, communicate the actions being taken to mitigate them. If applicable, share governance processes that are being set in stone to prevent the issue’s possible reoccurrence.
- Communicate your company’s long-term sustainability plans, and how the crisis response aligns with them. Transparency and authenticity in your key messages may likely build trust with stakeholders. More importantly, it will demonstrate your commitment beyond the crisis.
- Personalize your ESG communication to the various stakeholders you’re addressing. For instance, investors may be most interested in financial impacts. In contrast, customers may be more concerned about the impact on society or the environment.
- Consider partnering with experts. If your company lacks expertise in a particular ESG area, consider partnering with external experts or sustainability communications consultants to help you navigate the crisis.
Brands That Integrated Sustainable Communications in Their Crisis Plan
Many companies have successfully incorporated ESG into their crisis communication strategies. Here are a few examples:
- Patagonia: The outdoor clothing brand has a long history of focusing on sustainability and social responsibility, and these values are reflected in its crisis communication strategy. For example, Patagonia sued the Trump administration over its decision to shrink two national monuments in 2018. The company’s crisis communication plan emphasized its commitment to protecting the environment and its customers’ right to public lands.
- Microsoft: The tech giant has made a commitment to being carbon negative by 2030, and this commitment is reflected in its crisis communication strategy. For example, Microsoft experienced a significant outage in 2020 that affected many of its services. The company communicated openly and transparently about the issue while also emphasizing its commitment to sustainability.
- Coca-Cola: The beverage giant has made a commitment to sustainability, including a goal to be water-neutral by 2030. In its crisis communication strategy, Coca-Cola emphasizes its commitment to responsible water stewardship and other sustainability initiatives. For example, in 2020, the company faced criticism over plastic waste in its products. Its crisis communication plan emphasized its efforts to reduce plastic use through sustainable packaging and promote recycling through its awareness campaigns.
A crisis can happen even when you least expect it. The key to successfully managing a PR crisis is to always have a plan in place for worst-case scenarios, and to act quickly and transparently. It’s also essential to take responsibility, show empathy, and be honest with your stakeholders.
Lastly, the integration of ESG factors into crisis communication strategies is becoming increasingly essential for companies to build and maintain trust with stakeholders. Transparency and timely communication are key, and companies must be prepared to address the impact of the crisis on the environment, society, and governance while communicating the steps they are taking to address these issues.
To do so effectively, companies must first understand their ESG risks and opportunities, set ESG goals, and have a plan in place to achieve them. It’s essential to engage with stakeholders, including employees, customers, investors, and communities, to understand their concerns and incorporate their feedback into the company’s ESG strategy. Thus, companies can mitigate the impact of the crisis, rebuild trust with stakeholders, and create a more sustainable and resilient business for the future.