Handled the right way, you can come out relatively unscathed, but done poorly, a crisis could haunt your business for years
On Sept. 7th, 2017, Equifax announced that it had been the target of a security breach. At the time, they had actually been aware of the breach for more than a month. They aren’t alone. There are countless stories of brands facing crises of one sort or another, and then seriously bumbling things in the wake of it. The incident where a United Airlines passenger was violently ejected from a plane — and where executives initially defended the action — stands out, as well.
Any business can face a PR crisis. It may be the result of a rogue employee (FedEx), CEO gone astray (Deciem), or something caused externally. No matter what the reason, the way an organisation chooses to face the public about these issues is telling.
Handled the right way, a company can come out relatively unscathed. They may even earn admiration for their prompt, sensitive, and on point handling of the situation. Handled poorly and the crisis could haunt the company for years.
To put a finer point on it, 80% of small businesses that do not have a crisis plan in place cease to exist within two years of a major PR crisis. Factors behind this can include loss of morale, employee turnover, and of course, loss of business.
The key is implementing crisis communication strategies that work. When crisis hits, emotions run high. By having a plan in place, everyone involved has a roadmap to follow.
Here are three of these strategies:
1. Communicate Plainly And Truthfully
Mark Bernheimer from Media Works Group, a media training and consulting company, says that “transparency and honesty during the crisis is extremely important. In particular, the perception of transparency and honesty. What is communicated is important. And so does is how it is communicated.” Even if a brand is forthcoming, they won’t appear favorable if the public perceives they are hiding behind legalese and corporate speak.
Before making public statements take the time to learn the questions people are asking, the assumptions being made, and the concerns that they have. Prioritise answering these, even if to simply say, ‘We don’t have an answer to that. We are investigating and will provide information as soon as possible’.
2. Show Genuine Empathy Take Responsibility Make The Plan For Resolution Public
A few months ago, two African American entrepreneurs were arrested inside a Starbucks. The manager called police on them as they were waiting for the rest of their party to arrive, and reported that they were loitering. The result was a racially charged PR crisis that could have done significant damage to Starbucks.
The brand handled the situation mastefully. They apologised. They took responsibility in real ways including apologising to the men involved and establishing a plan to close stores and retrain staff. All of this was done quickly and in the public eye.
3. Provide a Centralized Resource For Those Impacted
When a PR crisis hits, one of the first things a company should do is create a plan to help those impacted. One option is to create a centralized resource that people can use to seek help or information. When Equifax customers had their information stolen, the company set up a web page that allowed customers to sign up for fraud protection services for free.
While the company’s decision to try to ban customers using the service from joining in any class action lawsuits was met with wide criticism, the decision to provide the resource was a good one. Getting the public to see a brand transition from source of trouble to source of help is imperative.
In the midst of a PR crisis, timing is everything. A delay in response gives room for rumors and insinuations to take hold. It isn’t a time to wonder what to do. Instead, brands who weather these crises have a plan in place, and implement that plan quickly. You can start with the strategies listed above.
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