No publicity is bad publicity, right? If you’re in public relations (PR), you’ll beg to differ. PR crises are roadblocks that can appear from the most unexpected of places – a social media post, advertising campaign, customer complaint or even an innocent tweet. For brands, corporate apologies can sound insincere and a hasty way to vacuum the dust off a once-polished image. While companies may glide over a genuine mistake, actions that betray a brand’s values won’t go away unnoticed.
The good news is, scandals need not resort to resignations. While to err is human, how your company oversees the crisis draws the line between an uphill climb and downward spiral. Although the nature and severity of the situation are crucial facets that can decide a brand’s future, managing the firestorm as it happens is key to overcoming the obstacle ahead. Handled right, a crisis can also give your brand a profile boost.
With that in mind, we’ve identified some ways to help you navigate through a crisis (or crises)!
1. Communicate early, and to the right people
It’s a race against the clock, especially during an emergency. Responding prematurely signals the likelihood to backtrack on your words as new facts arise, while delayed answers lead to speculations that’ll spill over to tabloid news. It’s all about timing. Don’t address your stakeholders, employees, business partners and customers after the crisis has ridden out the storm, hoping the public treats it as yesterday’s news.
Be clear. Who needs to be notified when a problem strikes, and who is authorised to speak on behalf of the company? Relay proper protocol to all staff, stakeholders and partners to reinforce the line and responsibility of communication when faced with questions (from media and/or public) and avoid contradictory comments.
Prepare for backlash. By responding ‘no comment’ or providing no form of response only help others feed words into your mouth. Brushing aside curious questions may cause others to assume that a cover up is at play. Instead, be honest and provide reassurance that you’ll share the information as and when it becomes available.
2. Be proactive, not reactive
Name calling and finger pointing are emotions talking. Avoid fanning the flames with unwarranted external blame, or worse – arguing, posting or tweeting in public. Keeping your temperament in check during stressful circumstances can be tricky; knee-jerk responses only propagate the matter further. As a business leader, it’s crucial to assess the situation with a clear head, and focus on the public’s concerns to control the situation. Get the right message out through the best media channels, but more importantly, do consult with your PR team first before releasing any statement.
3. Take a stand
Is this the best position to take? Your decision will determine the company’s future responses and action plans. Rally your team together and ensure everyone’s on the same page.
In the case of Johnson & Johnson, the cyanide-laced Tylenol capsules became a case study for crisis management. With the number of fatalities and widespread panic over the extent of contamination, it looked impossible for the brand to regain its footing. Yet, quick thinking by the CEO, his transparency in dealing with the situation and the brand’s priority for consumer safety saved the pharmaceutical giant. The brand recalled pill orders across cities and implemented tamper-proof packaging for subsequent prescriptions.
Despite suffering significant monetary damage in the short run, the company took a firm stand, prioritising health and safety over profit loss. The consumer-first mindset and forthrightness in management ultimately renewed the trust in consumers.
4. Know how to apologise
Sorry seems to be the hardest word for some people. Even corporations at the top of the ladder don’t get it right the first time. Dove ran an advertorial depicting a woman of colour, miraculously transforming into a white lady after using its soap.
Criticised for racism, here was how their apology went:
Despite past efforts to promote inclusivity in its campaigns, the advertorial was seemingly a blatant jab at racism. And the apology caused a bigger uproar with its vague messaging and lack of sincerity – for instance, what did ‘missed the mark’ refer to? A genuine apology demonstrates ownership, an understanding of public sentiment and the will to improve current practices.
Compare this with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) representatives who handled the Academy Awards gaffe like pros after announcing the “accidental winner” for best picture during the live telecast.
The straightforward apology contained all the important nuggets – from acknowledging who the affected parties were, explaining how the glitch occurred, to actions taken to rectify the problem. Now, that’s the way to dish out an apology!
While loyalty to your brand is admirable, being defensive and over-selling your brand’s core assets will only land you in boiling water. Think of the apology as a dance – do it with heart and others will be moved.
5. Take the empathy route
While the crisis is like a wound to your brand’s image, great public relation skills is the antiseptic you need to treat the cut. Avoid technical jargons and curt responses, and instead adopt a customer-first mindset.
Take a page from Singapore Airlines on their high-quality customer service. The airline went above and beyond by presenting gifts from luxury tea store, TWG to passengers when an in-flight entertainment system on a short-haul flight turned faulty. While the damage done may only be a dent to the airline’s reputable record, the company accedes that genuine remorse and substantive efforts go a long mile.
In the case of consumer brands, consider how the trouble caused had resulted to poor experiences for users. How can you make amends after the blunder? Remember, you’re dealing with actual people with real concerns and feelings. After you identify the affected parties, decide on the medium to reach them. Will a quick tweet or a well-thought out press release perform the job best?
6. Monitor the situation
Disaster struck. You executed a plan. What’s next? Monitor the coverage of your messages and be ready to improvise on your action plan, if necessary. The crisis may snowball or involve new individuals, so be ready to abort mission and begin from scratch.
Poor use of public relations acts as a sword that will wedge deeper cracks in your company. Instead, use the mightier pen to construct genuine apologies, reflect on wrongdoings and plan. Take our word for it, brilliant public relation tactics are the right arm to every successful business!
Posted by Nur Farzana, CorpMedia
A sound damage control plan could mean the difference between a minor blip and getting doors shut in your face for good!
The “C” word seems to be the new buzz when it comes to publicity these days – Facebook, Twitter, blogs – one click and you’re connected to the world – the good, the bad, and the ugly! Everyone is hungry for news. So it’s no surprise that the big “C” is enjoying a great deal of publicity. I’m talking about CONTROVERSY, people. The biggest celebrity controversy to hit the news is the recent announcement from reality star Kim Kardashian – she’s getting divorced after only 72 days! Courting the media is nothing new to Kim and she thrives on it. But this time round, her fans are not amused. Sometimes, too much publicity can land you in heaps of trouble. As we write this blog, a petition is circulating online (over 125,000 signatures and counting) – demanding that all Kardashian reality shows be pulled off the air.
Surviving the C – Controversy and Crisis
It doesn’t matter if you’re a multi-million dollar earning celebrity, a huge multinational corporation, or a small enterprise – no one is immune from the dangers of publicity. Controversial or not, if you’re facing a crisis, it’s not a matter to be taken lightly. A crisis, if handled poorly, can disrupt or destroy your best efforts to manage any remaining opportunity to resolve the situation, recover, rehabilitate, or retain your reputation.
These days, celebrities and us lesser mortals alike are turning to PR agencies to help manage crises with proper damage control. PR professionals are media savvy – dealing with journalists is what they know and do best, and they are always prepared – well the good ones anyway!
No PR crisis is small – it can damage your integrity and credibility, and ultimately may negatively impact your brand and cost your business. Whether it’s your own doing or that of an outsider, what matters is that you act fast and clean up the mess by having a damage control plan in place. While damage control alone may not be able to fully contain the situation, it can at least minimize the potential harm.
For tips on managing a crisis, read on.
1. Be ready with your PR team. Your publicist should be at the forefront of any damage control plan. If you don’t have one, get a team of people together – insiders who know you and your company inside out, equipped with a solid knowledge of the crisis at hand, and who are in good position to represent you. This could be top management, your legal team, and even your marketing people.
Next, appoint a spokesperson. He should be the one dealing with the media and must avail himself for interviews. A big plus if he’s a good, calm and confident public speaker. More importantly, he has to have great tolerance for the media and not be easily riled by their inquisition.
2. Honesty is the best policy – be transparent. A crisis is better managed if it is unexposed to the media. But if it’s found a way to the media, be responsive and act fast. Don’t hide from the media. Instead provide them with transparent and honest information. If you’re at fault, admit it and state your intentions clearly to resolve the crisis. The worst thing you can do is lie – the media is quick to catch on, and you may land yourself in deeper trouble if you don’t come clean.
3. Issue a public statement. At the initial stage, all you need is a public statement. It should detail every aspect of the crisis, your view, and your response to the problem. Send the statement to the relevant media groups. Releasing a public statement reiterates your accountability and responsiveness to the crisis, and taking responsibility for your actions. Issue a public apology if necessary.
4. Have a prepared script ready. The script will primarily be used by your spokesperson and/or designated PR personnel during interviews. Scripts are important to keep everyone on the same page – it ensures the dissemination of consistent statements from the source of origin. Scripts though, should not be read like words off a teleprompter and should be delivered as naturally as possible, and appear spontaneous.
5. Don’t wait to be hunted down. If your crisis is newsworthy, sometimes getting ahead of the media is in itself an effective crisis management tool. This way, you get to highlight your awareness of the problem and your willingness to be publicly scrutinized — and that will take your credibility up a notch. So before the news hits the editorial desks, go ahead and publicize the crisis. You’ll get to tell your story on your terms and be seen as genuinely attempting to resolve the problem.
Last but not least, keep in mind that the state of your reputation when you encounter a crisis is dependent on how you respond to it. A sound damage control plan could mean the difference between a minor blip and getting doors shut in your face for good!
The world is abuzz with news of the phone hacking scandal that is rocking the UK. The ongoing controversy involves the News of The World, a popular and now-defunct British tabloid newspaper published by News International and allegations that individuals working for the paper had engaged in professional misconduct, namely phone hacking.
While the affair originally appeared to be limited to the phone hacking of celebrities, politicians and members of the British Royal Family, it’s now been reported that the hacking also included that of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, relatives of deceased British soldiers, and victims of the London bombings. This has generated widespread public outrage in the United Kingdom.
Advertisers started to pull out and this led to the closure of the News of the World after a record 168 years in print.
The phone hacking scandal is one of many scandals that has hit companies. We all want to believe that what happened to Toyota or News International would never happen to your company but in the real world, nothing goes the way you want it.
So here comes the age old question, “Is any press good press?”
Judging from the unexpected uproar that currently surrounds Rupert Murdoch and his team, this is clearly not the case. There is however a silver lining to be picked upon from this meltdown – the need for a sound crisis management strategy to salvage a company’s brand/image.
During a crisis, the attention given by the media and the public is nothing short of intense. Public outrage can be the Achilles heel that can ultimately bring down a company – no matter how formidable. The implications for every step taken and action undertaken will no doubt be scrutinised.
Crisis management is an essential component of public relations. Crisis management can “turn around” a major event that “threatens to harm the organisation, its stakeholders, or the general public.
The DOs and DON’Ts of Crisis Management
So what is the best way to handle a crisis? The following tips may be helpful.
Always prepare for the worst. “Make it a regular part of your staff meetings to figure out what could go wrong,” says crisis expert Jonathan Bernstein. It is vital that you develop a contingency communication strategy before the need for one. This preparation will come in handy when a crisis befalls on you.
Develop messages that answer anticipated questions. “To be confident and gain credibility, answer questions with a straightforward “yes,” “no,” or “maybe,” followed immediately with “and here is why,” says PR consultant David Sheon. State your message and reiterate it clearly.
Avoid phrases such as “No comment” or “Our attorneys have advised us.” This gives the impression that you’re hiding something from the press and public. Instead, try something along the lines of, “It is too soon in our investigation to give you a thorough answer.” Or, “We are consulting with top experts in the field on that very issue and expect to have a well-researched response soon.”
Be sincere. Don’t just say, “I’m sorry,” apologise. If you are in the wrong, communications strategist Jason Mudd of AXIA suggests using this Apology Model he crafted for his clients.
- Confess. State what you did. Own up to it. Be clear, candid and concise.
- Apologise. Say, “I apologise” — not just I’m sorry — for whatever it is you did.
- Rectify. How will you make the current situation better? What are the short-term/reactive measures?
- Prevention and Reformation. What are the long-term and/or preemptive steps that will assure this doesn’t happen again — ever?
- Seek forgiveness. This is important. Don’t forget to ask for forgiveness from your employees, shareholders, customers, community and other stakeholders and those impacted.
Lastly, a golden rule in crisis management is to NEVER LIE. Lies will always find a way to creep back into your life and come back to haunt you. A company’s reputation can be built over time but your dishonesty will always be remembered even long after the crisis has passed. The best thing you can do is face up to your mistakes, stand up and take the heat.
The key takeaway from all this should be that to simply say something that seems sufficient to you, but does not address the concerns of the public or your client, is not a productive way to handle a crisis. Certain statements must be made and actions taken to show those watching that you take the situation seriously.