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Managing PR Disasters: Everything You Need to Do It Effectively

15 min read
PR disasters

PR disasters can arise suddenly and wreak havoc on your entire business. They can even drive you into bankruptcy.

Public relations disasters can happen when a product malfunctions or a spokesperson does something offensive or off-brand.

There’s no excuse for being caught off-guard. Companies which survive the worst PR disasters are prepared with crisis management plans which enable them to take immediate actions. They take responsibility for the damage, apologize to consumers, and move on as quickly as possible.

Here are ten tips for the most effective way to handle PR disasters.

1. Plan Ahead

The best method for handling PR disasters is to be prepared. You should not be taken by surprise by anything!

Create a crisis response team who will anticipate problems and devise strategies for dealing with the hypothetical before it becomes a reality.

If you work in a high-risk industry like energy or construction, you need to have emergency plans to address and mitigate dangerous situations immediately. You must also be ready to address the press and the community about any damages, loss of property or life.

2. Choose a Spokesperson

If you do not have an internal or external communications team, you need to appoint a spokesperson who will make a public statement. It can be a member of your own communications staff, the president of the company, or its general counsel.

The spokesperson will be the face of the company at its most vulnerable moment. They will need to strike a tone that takes responsibility and conveys honesty, transparency, and trustworthiness.

Their approach will be critical in influencing response by government, law enforcement, shareholders, employees, and customers. Make sure your spokesperson is trained and prepared before letting them issue a statement or give an interview.

A poorly prepared statement can lead to reputation damage for the company and loss of job for the spokesperson. One example of poor PR and its consequences is the statement by the CEO of United after one of the airline’s passengers was physically dragged off a plane.

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3. Move Quickly

You need to get in front of a bad story. Do not waste days soliciting the opinions of all your top executives as public opinion builds against you.

Issue a statement as soon as you can. Even if you do not have all the facts yet, you need to reassure your audiences that you know what has happened and are taking it seriously.

4. Apologize

Some disasters are unavoidable. Some are due to acts of God or the weather. Some may be due to human error: perhaps a single employee on the production line messed up.

However, the best approach to a crisis from a public relations standpoint is for company leadership to take responsibility. The public is much more forgiving when a company admits it messed up than if it just denies and deflects.

5. Propose Changes

Johnson & Johnson’s approach to the Tylenol disaster is considered one of the best examples of handling one of the worst PR disasters in history. The company moved quickly to assume responsibility and make changes to protect their consumers. Their tamper-proof packaging set new standards in the industry and helped protect the company from lasting impact from the disaster.

If you are faced with a similar issue. you may need to termination responsible employees. That may include anyone from negligent line workers to the company president.

6. Move On

After you address the problem, make an apology, and implement preventative changes, it is important to move on. Do not continue to keep the negative story in the news by repeating it or referencing it.

Sometimes you must revamp or even completely alter the firm brand. For example, Papa John’s pizza changed its logo and branding to remove the image of its disgraced founder.

You may be able to make small changes to your marketing to indicate your company has changed but still delivers the benefits its customers remember. Contact a branding expert to find out how to maintain what your consumers love about your brand while letting go of old negative associations.

7. Demonstrate What’s Different

Your consumers will expect to see an illustration of how you have changed. This may entail firing the person who caused the disaster or whoever allowed it to take place.

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You may need to invite the press in to see how you have changed internal procedures to protect consumers. You may need to give interviews. You may need to make statements on your website showing your ongoing efforts to prevent any reoccurrence.

8. Make Amends

If a person, property, or the environment has been hurt by your company’s actions, you must make it right. Don’t wait until you are required to do so by court order.

BP was responsible for one of the biggest environmental disasters in history with the Deep Water Horizon oil spill. The company now focuses heavily on efforts to prevent and mitigate environmental problems through various initiatives around the globe.

9. Increase Training

If your company’s PR disaster arose from problems in your internal culture, you can make sure your employees receive training on the subject. If there were allegations of racism or misogyny, create employee awareness programs that focus on inclusivity. Provide anti-harassment training.

If the problem arose from carelessness or fatigue, revamp your systems so that employees get suitable breaks to prevent such negligence. Create a work environment that prevents mistakes that could hurt others.

10. Implement Preventative Measures

Other representative measures may include increased supervision or inspections, and higher budgets for hygiene and risk prevention.

Document the changes you make and inform the public so they know you understand the gravity of what happened and have taken measures to make sure it never happens again.

PR Disasters: Your Company Can Survive

PR disasters can kill a business if they are not addressed swiftly, appropriately, and with sensitivity. Public perception of a company, even unfounded, can make or break it. If the company reacts to its mistake productively, chances are the public will be forgiving.

Say you are sorry, be humble about it, and demonstrate your willingness to take responsibility and change. Be like Hugh Grant!

For more tips on succeeding in business and elsewhere, keep checking back.

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