News and Insights

The Best Way to Deal with a PR Problem is to Have a Plan Before it Hits

Kerry Grady, Founding Principal

Each public relations crisis may come as a surprise, but your response should not be. Smart organizations have a PR crisis management plan in place that involves every aspect of the organization—including HR, legal and technical. “Ninety-five percent of the crises I’ve seen in my 30-plus year career could have been completely preventable with advance planning,” says Jonathan Bernstein, President of Bernstein Crisis Management. That plan should also include media training for executives, pre-approved responses for public relations and social media, and regular tabletop exercises. “You need to look at systems that might preclude you from responding correctly,” he adds. “For example, can you website handle 500 times its normal volume of traffic? The answer is almost always no. So if you can’t add bandwidth on the fly very quickly you’ll have an extra level of crisis.

Triage The Problem

Everything that blows up on social media doesn’t necessarily constitute a crisis. Organizations need to consider three factors before they react: 1) Does it severely affect the organization’s normal workflow or distract senior management? 2) Will it seriously impact the bottom line? 3) Can it tarnish the organization’s image or reputation in the eyes of key stakeholders? You can have one or two of them and be fine. If the crisis meets all three components, a company needs to think strategically about how to respond and what tactics to use.

Respond Quickly on Social Media

Once you’ve determined if the problem requires a response, time is of the essence. Here social media can be your ally, allowing you to quickly disseminate information while appearing to be in control of the situation. An immediate social media response is key. In most cases your goal should be to respond within an hour. If you let too much time pass, a lot of negativity can fill that void. This means organizations need to dedicate resources to monitoring social media 24/7, as well as a rapid response team empowered and trained to handle crises without waiting for approval from top management.

Be Honest, Transparent and Direct.

Denying a negative report, minimizing the details or blaming others just makes a crisis worse when the real story comes out later. The best strategy is to own your mistakes, apologize to the affected parties, take steps to demonstrate how you’ll do better in the future and move on. A well-executed crisis response can actually boost your brand image over the long haul. It’s not if a crisis will happen, it’s when. Brands need to accept that they are in a constant dialogue with their market. Campaigns will go wrong. Focus group-tested messages will fall flat. Employees will misbehave. But investors, clients and consumers will accept mistakes when the response feels appropriate.

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