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PR Tips for Managing a Crisis in Business
Any business, regardless of its size and industry, can find itself in a serious crisis. When we say crisis, we don’t mean bankruptcy or business going bad, but events that have the power to shatter a reputation and damage customer trust.
Doing everything you can to prevent a disaster is great, but you simply cannot be immune to accidents and unexpected human errors. Of course, responsible leadership and honest work will reduce the chance of something like that happening but it cannot completely eliminate the risk.
However a crisis, even a major one, doesn’t mean you’ll have to shut your business down.
What does a business crisis include?
This can be as simple as some bad feedback spreading like a wildfire on social media due to bad service or a faulty product. Or, it can be a scandal of any other nature but, in the worst cases, customer lives or well-being may be endangered.
Regardless of the type of crisis, the reputation of a business can be saved by simple but efficient PR strategies, which require a good knowledge of crisis prevention, careful planning and fast reactions.
Here’s how to prepare for the worst and increase your confidence in managing a business crisis.
Choose Your Spokesperson Wisely
One of the best ways to prevent a PR disaster is to assign a spokesperson long before the crisis hits.
If you don’t have a PR professional on your team, decide who can speak on behalf of the company and who should never speak to the media. In some cases, it’s best to leave the PR business to the business owner. However, in other cases, a talented manager who is willing to take over PR duties might be a better choice.
For example, if the public hears an announcement given by someone who is too high on the corporate ladder, they might think that a crisis is much worse than it actually is. Although they can’t speak for the PR team and CEO, other team members can learn how to improvise and deal with the situation. They might not give an announcement to the media, but they can help out by gathering information, forwarding calls to the right people and handling other parts of crisis management.
Take Responsibility, but Point Out Your Positive Record
One of the tactics to avoid when your reputation is at stake is denying responsibility.
If you’re even partly guilty for the crisis, take responsibility when speaking to the media. People value honesty and accountability and a credible announcement will likely calm down the crisis, not enhance it. In times when everyone thinks that it’s OK to spin the facts and lie, an honest and direct approach represents the key of successful PR strategy.
What comes next? Being honest about your mistakes is not nearly enough to save your reputation. You need facts that will make people think that putting their trust in you was a good idea. To achieve this, you need to remind the public of all positive track records of your company. They need to realize that this crisis is a one-time accident and put it into the context of having an impeccable business reputation. The public needs to compare this one-off and unfortunate event with a perfect business history.
Social Media – The First Line of Defense
You shouldn’t ask yourself whether the social media trashing will happen to you – the question is not “if” but “when”.
Most business owners make a huge mistake by not managing their social media profiles while it’s time. Simply “being there” on Twitter, Facebook or any other network isn’t enough. You need to build your audience, capture their attention, earn their trust and increase the number of loyal followers.
Why the effort? Well, besides increasing your customer base, it will be easier for you to put out the fire when a catastrophe occurs. If you build an audience in good times, they’ll most likely support you during the tough times and a crisis. It takes time and resources, but it’ll definitely pay off. When the crisis happens, your announcement will reach your audience quickly and your message will be sent directly to many followers – without other media coming between.
How to Manage a Crisis on Social Media
When your business is in crisis, the bad news spread like wildfire: fast and uncontrollably.
In most cases, if and when something goes wrong (inadequate/controversial social media post, bad service or product), some of your customers won’t hesitate to trash you on social media knowing that it’ll hurt you the most. Regardless of the nature of the crisis, the procedure is the same: react fast, react wisely and always try to have a plan in store.
Train your team to react as soon as possible (we are talking about minutes) and try to come up with a plan of (re)action in such cases. If possible, a CEO should speak to the audience and make an announcement and an apology if someone has been wronged. If the event requires a special announcement, take your time – it’s better to speak to the public a bit later than tell them the wrong things. However, give them at least some kind of heads-up that the explanation or an apology is coming.
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Consider Investing in Training
If you don’t have the resources to employ a PR professional, at least provide some kind of training to your employees.
Media training is great for beginners in PR waters – it’s a suitable education for all business people who simply want to learn how to deliver their messages in the best possible way (in both good and bad times). Training will give the employees and designated spokespersons enough knowledge and confidence to deal with company crisis and give announcements during critical events.
What can media training teach you? Every experienced PR knows that the message to the public needs to be concise and clear as it will less likely be misinterpreted and misquoted. The ability to provide responses to tricky questions is also a part of training, but this skill usually comes with experience. During the interview or announcement, a spokesperson needs to remain confident and things such as body language, posture and tone used become extremely important.
About the Author
This article was contributed by Mila Payton. Mila holds a BSc in International Business. She is currently writing for Central College, an institution striving to provide excellence in education and knowledge.