6 Rules for How to Handle a PR Crisis

It’s not a matter of if a crisis will strike, but when.  

When an event that threatens the reputation of the business does hit, the CEO needs to take immediate action to mitigate risks to the company.  In unexpected events, employees & the public will look to the CEO – the leader of the company – to see how he/she is handling it.  And ignoring the problem isn’t handling it.

Here are a few examples of crises that warrant a PR response from CEO:

  • Lawsuit
  • Investigation
  • Government scrutiny 
  • Negative reviews 
  • Personal scandal involving key member of company 
  • Bad press 

The question is do you have protocols and operating procedures in place in preparation for an unforeseen event?  If you woke up tomorrow to see bad press about your company, would you be able to jump on it immediately and respond to the issue?

Here are 6 tips for how CEOs should handle a PR Crisis:

  1. Respond – Have a plan in place for yourself, investors and employees.  If you don’t, act quickly and convene the right experts.  It’s essential you take immediate action to best control the narrative.  How should or shouldn’t employees and investors respond if questioned by the media?  Have some prepared messaging in place that can be deployed quickly at the onset of a negative event while management investigates the situation.

“I suspect in most companies, the public relations person is down at No. 20 in the pecking order. But here, he is fighting incredibly important battles. If a negative story starts running away with itself in the press and is not dealt with fast, it can badly damage the brand, and so we put enormous weight on our PR people.”Richard Branson

  1. Evaluate – Evaluate the severity of the situation:
    1. How does the situation play into the landscape?  
    2. How are the stakeholders impacted?  
    3. What are the potential risks, costs, and opportunity costs of potential responses?  
    4. What are the long term and unintended consequences? 
    5. Who is your audience?
  2. Communication and transparency – This must start at the top. CEOs must be seen and heard by stakeholders (especially employees). Transparency is key.  CEOs need to be honest with its stakeholders, employees and public to retain their credibility and confidence.  Demonstrating vulnerability, while uncomfortable, earns you the respect as someone who does the right thing.
  3. Cohesive strategy – Legal and PR counsel must work together for a cohesive and mutually beneficial strategy.  For example, don’t do a good PR thing that will hurt a court case. A common maxim is litigate strong cases in court and weak cases in media to intimidate opponent. But this doesn’t always hold up. 
  4. Media Response – Determine the media response (know your audience) and implement quickly. “Cannot be reached for comment” erodes trust. 
  5. Re-Establish Trust – Mistakes can happen, but at the end of the day it’s how you handle these mistakes that make all the difference.  Maintaining integrity is key to re-establishing trust.  Trust is hard to gain, but easy to lose.

To re-establish trust, ensure your response is documented and public.  Acknowledge what went wrong and why it happened.  Be sincere in your apology and interactions with customers.  And commit to the promises you make while showing progress towards fixing the issue.  By doing this, you can re-build trust & the companies reputation with consumers.

At the end of it all, evaluate how the situation was handled.  Are there any holes in your protocol that need to be addressed?  What went well and what needs improvement for the next crisis?  Take a moment to reflect on the good, the bad, and the ugly to learn from the mistakes and to create a stronger PR crisis strategy moving forward.

Remember: A public relations crisis can occur when you least expect it!  The key is to be prepared.  It’s easier to come up with a plan when you are not under pressure than it is when your in the hot seat and needing to react quickly.  Develop a clear strategy for every department within the company to ensure everyone knows what to do. 

Need help setting a Crisis Protocol in place?  Click here to Schedule your FREE consultation session today.

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