All businesses are vulnerable to a public relations crisis, no matter what their size or composition. They can come from anywhere: employee mistakes or bad behavior, a defective product, or even a natural disaster. Often, these crises occur outside of your ability to control or predict.
In today’s Internet age, bad press can travel farther and faster than ever before. But it’s not the end of the world. If you play your cards right, you’ll be able to make it through unharmed—or maybe even turn it into an advantage.
1. Plan ahead
Public relations crises are almost always unexpected, but that’s no excuse for not having a plan. You should make the time to think of likely scenarios that could be damaging to the company image: product recalls, customer complaints, etc. Then establish a set of procedures or guidelines to follow in case they occur. You have fire drills, right? Why not a PR crisis drill, too?
2. Stay calm
When faced with a PR crisis, far too many executives panic and shoot out a knee-jerk reaction that causes more problems than it solves. Taking a breath before doing anything gives you time to get your facts straight and come up with a considered response.
3. Respond quickly
Nothing will cause your company more damage than a slow or nonexistent response. Nothing spreads through the grapevine faster than bad press. Public opinion will roll on, with or without you, and the more absent you are the bigger the firestorm you’ll have to deal with. Respond immediately to the original complaint, even if it’s just to acknowledge their presence and the problem.
4. Acknowledge the problem
Don’t dance around the topic. Address the issue straight on and speak to the original complainant. Tell them what caused the problem and what you’re doing to address it. Doing so shows that you take your customers seriously and value their feedback. In the case of larger issues, like irresponsible employee behavior, it will demonstrate that you take company values and ethics very seriously.
5. Monitor the media
Public complaints tend to take on a life of their own, often spiraling far out of the reach of the original complainant. Watch the news and social media outlets and see what they’re saying about the incident. If you can get a handle on how public opinion is swaying, you’ll be able to perform damage control by correcting any misconceptions or addressing additional concerns.
6. Balance the scales
Whatever you’ve done (or has been done to you) to attract all this bad press, it’s still up to you to make it right. Resolve customer complaints by offering them replacement products or free services. Perform corrective actions against any employees responsible for or are the subject of the complaint.
Your reaction doesn’t need to be passive, either. You can release some positive public relations articles to remind customers about the good things your company has done, and how the service will improve after the complaints have been addressed. Who knows—you may end up converting the customer back over to your side.
Have you ever been in a public relations nightmare? How did you solve the problem?