Crisis communication is designed to protect and defend an individual, company, or organization facing a public challenge to its reputation. – Wikipedia
Crisis communication is a core component of public relations, though not the prettiest part of it. Hopefully most of your business’s PR efforts are focused on promoting your company and building positive press. But mistakes do happen. And when they do, it’s imperative for a business to have a PR damage control plan in place, so that they can execute it swiftly and protect their company’s reputation.
The upside is that handling a PR crisis with aplomb can actually improve your company’s reputation. Here we outline PR Damage Control best practices, as well as helpful tips for building your company’s own crisis communication policy.
Damage Control 101:
Take Quick and Decisive Action
Take quick and decisive action to address the problem internally, before issuing your statement to the public. Then issue your public statement soon thereafter. Remember, it’s always better for you to control the conversation than the press, so make sure you beat the press to it. The quicker you respond to an issue, the faster it runs through the news cycle. A quick response also illustrates that your company is concerned, proactive, and in control of the situation.
Know What to Address
When it comes to negative publicity, the public and media will be most interested in how your company is involved, and how it will affect the company in the future. Your public statement should entail what you have done to ameliorate the issue and/or what steps you will be taking to do so, when you expect the issue to be resolved, and how your company will prevent this type of issue in the future.
Be Transparent, Open and Candid
In this case, silence is not golden. Ignoring or being tight-lipped about a public mishap can do as much damage to your company’s reputation as the mishap itself. Companies who come forward and address their mistakes in an open and candid way regain the public’s trust, and help mitigate any reputation damage that has already occurred. Be open about the mistake as well as how the company is handling it, and be sure to make someone available for further questions, comments or concerns.
Steps To Developing a PR Damage Control Plan:
Designate a Spokesperson
Not all small businesses have the resources to have an in-house PR department. Still, there should be someone on your team that possesses the communication skills necessary to handle your company’s public relations when needed. Designate your spokesperson ahead of time, and make sure they’re filled in on the company’s damage control policy and contingency plans. Limit any press relations to this person, to ensure your message is clear and consistent.
Develop Scripts For Tough Questions
Develop predetermined scripts or responses for difficult or tricky questions that your spokesperson may not be ready or able to answer. Your spokesperson should be well-versed with these scripts ahead of speaking to any press. An example of a script is “We don’t have that information at this time, but we will inform the public as soon as we know.”
Create Your Public Statement Process
This can be as simple as a list of questions to ask when developing your public statement or a timeline for producing, approving and issuing the statement. The important part is to have steps in place before hand so that you are prepared to issue your public statement as quickly and efficiently as possible. Before generating your public statement, consider the issue thoroughly, as well as the context in which the issue occurred. Was the matter directly related to the company’s products, services or operations? Or was the mistake of a personal or individual nature? Does the issue correspond to other company matters or current events? Different contexts will require different responses. For example, if it is a company mistake, then a swift apology followed by how the company is addressing the situation, is the best policy. If the matter is unrelated to the company’s products, services or operations, then make sure to draw a distinction between the individual/s involved and the company, but without negating responsibility or action.
Compartmentalize Your Plan
It’s important to have damage control plans for different situations. Try to develop contingency plans for different types of PR crises, including employee/executive misconduct, product recalls, poor customer service experiences, or inappropriate public behavior or statements.
Think Long Term
Your damage control plan should account for the worst case scenario – a PR debacle that incurs lasting damage to the company’s reputation. Consider how your company will continue to respond and amend the issue over time, as well as steps your company will take to rebuild public trust.