The ABCs of PR Crisis Management

If you asked me 15 years ago, I would be ever so eager to avoid handling communication strategies for any company with a high risk tendency when it comes to publicity crisis. My immature self would sprint at the chance of longer office hours, intense pressure from the PR Director to ensure that you keep your eye on current trending news coverage and social media conversations apart from having to come up with a press statement that is diplomatic yet sends out the essential key message in the fastest time frame before the Vice President of Communications decides to send your head to the guillotine.

But at this day and age, a crisis is called a crisis for a reason. It is inevitable and unavoidable. Few years back we would assume the highest risk for a PR crisis involves airline companies. Well fast forward to 2018 and who could foresee launching a new hijab collection at a nightclub or even closing fast food outlets could cause such havoc.

With that in mind, I figured now would make for the perfect timing to play Olivia Pope and revisit the very fundamentals of PR crisis management. Who knows, this could help you and myself tackle head on whatever issues which could possibly cross our career paths.

APOLOGIZE

No matter who is in the right, as the person preparing the press statement always take the stand of apologizing and acknowledging the matter. It is a rookie mistake to dodge the issue by hiding behind someone else’s skirt (pun not intended) or even playing the blame game.

Reputation hazards are often any public relation practitioners’ worst nightmare, however in most situations you need to remember that the statement you craft needs to be the voice of reason on behalf of the corporation. It has to be in a tone that is diplomatic yet affirmative taking into account full accountability – as your main aim is to restore your readers/viewers/consumers trust in your brand.

Also think of it this way – PR is a lot about human relationships. If you have an argument with a spouse/family member or friend, it is always recommended to be the bigger person and apologize. It reduces the strain in the relationship and it opens a window of opportunity to stabilize the relationship or situation. The same applies to those affected by your crisis. Take the human approach – that’s the only way to regain trust.

BE PREPARED

I get it, it isn’t called a crisis if it were foreseeable under all circumstances. But as communication strategists, it does not hurt to think ten steps ahead. There is always a risk in everything you do and it would definitely not hurt to keep several options at bay should something go wrong.

Don’t look too far, in fact PR for the entertainment industry in Malaysia is a pretty straightforward case, specifically for Malays. Anything pertaining to politics and religion can lead to a crisis. Simplest example? Malay celebrity caught in a nightclub with a Vodka bottle is a crisis for the talent management. Malay celebrity who wears the hijab caught without a hijab during a holiday abroad is also a crisis.

Let’s have a look at other situations for instance you’re handling PR for an e-commerce startup. What’s the worse case scenario for the startup? Perhaps logistics – you can start thinking of an SPL to have at hand should such issue materialize. Another case could be where you run an e-Sports tournament and there could be technical issues during the event. Start thinking of your statement to keep our media friends calm and optimistic of your brand.

Always anticipate the worst case scenario. I am not telling you to be Broody Judy, but think of it this way –  the more prepared you are, the less of a knee jerking approach you will take to counter the issue. The less knee jerking approach will also spell better brownie points for the brand’s reputation.

CONTROL THE DAMAGE

I would like to think of reputation related crisis as a fire. Fires are nice when they are within control, just enough to light a soothing tropical scented candle. But the second these fires get out of hand, you can really end up burning the house down, literally.

As much as I used to get irritated by the PR directors panic approach and constant hassling you into monitoring a crisis on all media platforms, these days it really does make sense. You can’t afford to sleep on a crisis. Facts can be spun around within a blink of an eye. The wrong marketing strategy which makes thousands of Malaysians question your position as a religious public figure could potentially sacrifice your future endeavours, perhaps even sales revenue.

As a PR practitioner, one needs to be quick in action with regards to :

  • Media monitoring. Know how much damage is done so you know what extent and options are available to control it
  • Stakeholder/client management. These are the first ones within the knowing circle. Not managing your stakeholders can spell a bigger disaster, because these are your spokespeople. If they say the wrong thing, there goes your crisis.
  • The actual press statement. The slower you release the statement, the faster you lose your consumers’ trust.

Most people still fail to understand the dire need of the right public relations strategy, especially in tackling communication crisis. However it is best to think in a long term perspective. Bad reputation can lead to further problems – consumer loyalty, brand image, reduced sales and revenue.

As they say, one bad apple can spoil the whole barrel – don’t let a mishandled PR crisis be your bad apple.

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