Your company could be a media darling one day and be caught in the eye of a PR storm the next. All major brands will — at some point — be in the midst of a disaster. The best thing you can do is be prepared.
Today’s fast-moving media landscape only raises the bar for authentic engagement with your audiences. Your company also needs to be engaging with the media and other important influencers. Many companies have a great story to tell, but first, they have to listen to the skeptics, engage in conversations, and ultimately nurture relationships built on transparency and trust.
The Calm Before the Storm
Many PR crises can be prevented or lessened with a little bit of legwork while things are still going well.
First, remember that relationships are key. Take the time to nurture relationships with employees, stakeholders, and the media. If you build these positive relationships, people will be more willing to cut you some slack while you figure things out.
Next, genuinely engage with your audience. In the past, we didn’t have social media to enable us to nurture relationships efficiently online. But now, it’s important to be open and honest on social media and in customer interactions. Don’t spam your audiences, but don’t wait until a crisis to engage, either. Be a part of the conversation about the issues that matter to them and your business.
Finally, listen to your critics right when they start talking. It doesn’t matter how big or small you are; if your critics make enough noise, they can ruin your reputation. Listen to them early and often, and make adjustments when their criticisms ring true. You will be a better and stronger organization for it.
When It All Breaks Loose
The absolute worst thing you can do is assume a PR crisis won’t happen to you. I promise it will. And when it does, don’t panic. Here are a few tips to help you handle your crisis and move forward:
- Get management on board. Big changes or responses have to come from the top, so get management on board with the strategy as quickly as possible. More harm will be done if the communications team makes promises that management is unwilling to keep.
- Respond quickly (but not in haste). Everyone’s a critic, and thanks to social media, every critic has a microphone. Respond quickly to any concern, but don’t hastily make promises. The best way to respond initially is to say, “We’re checking into this immediately.” It shows that you take criticism seriously, but it protects you from taking an action that’s too big or too small for the problem.
- Get your house in order. The knee-jerk reaction to criticism is defensiveness. Companies often want to respond too quickly or stand their ground and refuse to budge. First, listen to criticism and fairly judge whether it’s true. Then, take appropriate actions to make sure your company is in order.
- Turn well-meaning critics into brand ambassadors. Some people are jerks who complain about everything, but a lot of online critics would welcome positive changes in a company. If your house is in order and you’re being true to your culture, you now have the power to engage with these well-meaning critics. You could even turn them into your biggest fans.
- Use all your channels (when they make sense). Long gone are the days when a press release covered all your announcement bases. Now, you need to make sure you use every channel that makes sense for your business. If your company is already active on Twitter, for example, that’s where you should address any issues and make policy announcements.
You can’t please everyone, so it’s virtually guaranteed that your business will experience a PR crisis along the way. But don’t let that scare you. Be prepared by building strong relationships and having a realistic attack plan for when it all goes south.
Who knows? Your professionalism could turn a PR crisis into a huge branding win for your company.