Managing a PR crisis depends largely on developing an appropriate response ahead of time. Good public relations is something which companies need to develop strong relationships with media outlets and their target audiences, especially in times of crisis. It is all about creating a public image that presents a robust and flattering look at the company. The field encompasses communication, community relations, crisis management, and media relations.  All of these build a strong foundation for successful media outreach. However, one part of PR that is almost unavoidable is crisis management.

Crisis management is when an organization deals with an event that threatens to harm the company’s reputation, stakeholders, or the general public. A crisis generally poses a threat, has the element of surprise, requires rapid decision making, and provides evidence of a much-needed change for the organization.

While risk and crisis management both require assessment of potential threats, crisis management requires solutions after an event has occurred. Crisis management is about having the skills and techniques required to identify, assess, understand, and cope with the situation as quickly and as effectively as possible.

The role of PR in crisis management 

Due to the easy access to social media platforms, many brands are facing challenges when receiving backlash. One reason for this is the constant need to keep up with new trends and develop new ideas to draw consumers in. A company’s strategies are constantly changing to adapt to its target audience’s needs and wants. Even so, without proper planning and execution, it is possible that not all aspects were carefully thought out and could potentially lead to a PR crisis. Given how fast news stories gain more traction, brands can easily find themselves dealing with many controversies.

Whether it is a data breach, an executive scandal, negative review, failed event, or poorly planned marketing campaign, every company needs to be prepared for a potential crisis. In order for a company to protect its reputation, the brand needs to develop public relations solutions to manage their credibility. Whether they decide to engage in their internal PR department or hire external PR professionals, it is essential to have mechanisms set up to manage a crisis properly. The roles that public relations play in crisis management can include research, immediate response, and recovery of a brand’s reputation.

1) Research 

This process should ideally be done before a PR crisis even occurs. However, if a crisis catches you unprepared, it is necessary to launch your research immediately so as to avoid another crisis. Good research involves assessing different mediums and platforms to find problems caused by a concern. It’s also important to understand how the audience is engaging with the information, and what potential backlash your brand is getting from its target markets. This takes a lot of time and effort, but with PR professionals like Pressfarm, companies can get advice, tips, and help.

Pressfarm is a PR agency that works with companies to create everything from email pitches to press releases, and  to build relationships with journalists and media outlets. Pressfarm clients also get access to Pressfarm’s extensive PR database with over 1 million journalists. Clients can use the powerful, filter-based search engine and find the ideal media match for their company and target audience. Pressfarm’s PR professionals and writers also help with online press release distribution, thus increasing release visibility in relevant search results across major search engines.

When experts like those at Pressfarm are put in place, especially during a crisis, it’s far easier to change public perception through the perfect keywords and marketing campaigns. Additionally, the Pressfarm team knows how to align strategies and content to their clients to effectively earn media coverage to alleviate any issues that come with a public crisis.

2) Immediate response 

There is no point in understanding a problem without trying to find an effective solution. How a brand responds to a PR crisis is what can make or break its reputation. By having a proper PR crisis strategy, brands should have a better idea of what information needs to be presented. This increases the chances of salvaging their image.

3) Recovery 

Once the initial response to the crisis has been sent out, the next step to a PR crisis strategy is to follow up on how well their research and immediate response worked to restore a brand’s image. Through understanding every aspect from their past and future, you can solve your problems and maintain your new positive reputation in the future.

How to avoid a PR crisis 

Public relations crises can happen to an organization of any size. Nevertheless, certain things can help you prepare for a crisis in advance, or even avoid the crisis entirely.

1) Have a plan for dealing with the media 

Talking to media professionals without a proper, well-thought-out plan can hurt your brand reputation more than you can imagine. When a crisis happens, the first decision a business needs to make is whether you will agree to an interview about the issue. However, even if you decide not to take interview requests, the story will run regardless. Choosing to comment on the situation gives your company control of how its message is being presented. It is possible that not commenting on a story will leave journalists and media outlets an avenue to take the situation out of context. This will only further hurt your brand image.

The most important thing about crisis management is having a clear plan of fixing the situation, having a simple message, and staying on point with the end goal of improving a reputation.

2) Determine who will speak 

The responsibility of this individual is tremendous. This is because they are the ones who will serve as the spokesperson for the company. Before developing a relationship or doing any damage control, businesses need to choose the right person for the job. This should be someone who knows the whole story and can present a positive image of the brand. Furthermore, even if one person has been chosen to represent the company, it is important that all employees know what is happening. This way, they can also communicate the message in case it becomes a larger problem for the entire company.

3) Own up to the crisis 

We are all human; we will make mistakes one way or another. However, rather than running and hiding, companies should own up to what is happening. This is a good idea because it gives audiences and media outlets a chance to see that you care about the needs and wants of your consumers. This can help you to build trust and establish yourself as a thought leader in your industry. Covering up a situation or hiding behind screens will always make matters worse rather than better.

4) Don’t do anything to make it worse 

The saying “don’t add fuel to the fire” exists for a reason. Whatever crisis your company is going through, you must do nothing to add to your current problem or create a new one. Everything you do needs to show that you are taking the issue seriously, especially when thrown in the spotlight.

5) Consider hiring professional help 

As mentioned previously, PR professionals are there for situations just like this. They know the industry’s ins and outs and know all the strategies and tips companies should use when trying to avoid or end a PR crisis. Experts provide useful insight into handling a problematic situation that companies probably have not dealt with before.

What you can learn from PR crises 

There has been an abundance of PR crises that companies have had to deal with over the past few years. Let us now look at some of the crises brands have faced and how they managed to fix their situation.

KFC

1) KFC 

In 2018, KFC ran out of most of their products in their 870 UK & Ireland restaurants after their supply chain and lack of contingency planning significantly impacted deliveries. While many blamed KFC for this, the blame ended up going to DHL, the chain’s new logistics partner. DHL was put under intense scrutiny for their failure to deliver ingredients to KFCs all over the UK & Ireland. The full cause of the crisis was more complicated than a simple delivery problem, and disruptions are bound to happen for many reasons. Be that as it may, it caused an uproar when it caused the closure of many storefronts.

What we can learn 

When the crisis first hit, KFC’s PR and marketing team got to work right away by embracing and owning up to their mistake. They created print ads for the KFC letters rearranged to spell out FCK to show that they understood they had messed up. The teams also created a page on their website so that customers could check to see whether brick-and-mortar storefronts were open again, and they even stayed ahead of any more potential problems and issues by answering questions via social media daily. It worked in their favor because they went through their crisis strategy transparently, and swiftly while also staying loyal to their brand messaging. All of this convinced the public that they were trying to fix the problem.

people in a bar

2) Tinder’s “Vanity Fair Article” outrage 

Dating apps have given us an easier way to connect with singles in our area, but they can also cause controversy when it comes to modern dating. In 2015, Vanity Fair wrote an article about how Tinder was destroying the traditional concept of dating. The reason this story generated a crisis is because the team at Tinder got too emotional and sent out multiple tweets bashing the magazine for its “one-sided journalism.” The app’s representative went on the offense by blasting Vanity Fair, claiming that they were much more than an outlet for hookups.

What we can learn 

The reason why this blew up was that rather than just letting the article be news or respond more positively, Tinder immediately went on the offense. Allowing an employee to lose their cool on a social media platform that has millions of users was a bad call on Tinder’s part. Tinder is still one of the number one apps for people looking for a partner. Nevertheless, the platform has had its fair share of controversy in the past about its work environment, especially with former CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd. For a company trying to bring people together romantically, they did not send the right brand message during their lawsuit with Herd. A few years ago, she openly discussed being harassed by an ex-boyfriend and former boss, Justin Mateen. Rather than taking her side, the company denied the accusations and settled out of court.

What we can learn from this PR crisis is to put emotions aside when an emergency happens. Of course, that can be hard, especially if it feels like a personal attack. Even so, proper planning and taking a step back from the situation helps companies to avoid sending out negative messaging that will affect their brand.

Mo's Mad for Menthol

3) Mo Farah’s Lookalike 

Celebrity endorsements and influencer marketing have now become an essential part of any company’s business strategy. It is a great way to increase visibility and reach a larger audience. Be that as it may, it needs to be done with the influencer’s knowledge and in a way that they are comfortable with. However, using a lookalike and adding an influencer’s name is a definite no-no.

Vaping company Diamond Mist created ads of buses across London using a photo of Olympian Mo Farah’s lookalike and using the slogan “Mo’s Mad for Menthol.” Once the campaign hit, it did not take long for the actual Mo Farah to find out about what was happening. He immediately took to Twitter to let his fans know that he was not part of the brand in any way. This response greatly affected Diamond Mist as a brand. After the uproar, the Advertising Standards Authority got involved, and the ads were banned. Mo Farah and his team took the company to court because of their illegal activity, which resulted in a huge payout and severe damage to their reputation.

What we can learn 

From this crisis, we can learn that whatever a company presents to the public should be authentic, original, legitimate, and legal. While influencer marketing is a good way to reach a larger audience. It needs to be done with the support and permission of the influencer or celebrity. If you proceed without permission, the repercussions can affect the reputations of both the influencer and the brand. In Mo Farah’s case, his fans knew him as an Olympian who cared about maintaining a healthy lifestyle. For this reason, they were shocked when they saw he was apparently backing a vaping company. When Mo took legal action, he was able to get a huge payout.

Conclusion 

Regardless of the organization’s size and cause of the PR crisis, companies will experience some disruption throughout their existence. However, the best way to deal with it is to be honest, own up to mistakes, and find the best solutions to fix your reputation, build trust and establish yourself as an experts in your industry. Getting extra help from PR professionals who understand the strategies that should be used to build a relationship is something that you should consider if you need just a little bit more guidance to present a cohesive and positive image to your audience.

Do you need help building a positive brand image? With Pressfarm’s PR services, you can create a memorable and long-lasting brand image for your company. We specialize in writing press releases which journalists will read and feature articles which will excite your target audience and generate conversions. We also give all our clients access to a media database of over 1 million journalists and influencers across different niches, helping them find the perfect journalist to help them tell their story. Check out our packages and launch your PR campaign today.

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