When a company reaches a certain level of success, a PR crisis of some kind is all but inevitable. People will make mistakes, no matter how hard they work and how focused they try to be. As has been demonstrated time and time again, it doesn’t have to be someone in leadership making a mistake that leads to a public PR crisis. A part-time employee in a bad mood may create a problem that ripples across the entire company.
So, what can and should a leader do when confronting a PR crisis? How does one navigate the company through the PR crisis minefield, especially in the days of social media, when every mistake, miscue, or misstatement is exponentially amplified with an immediacy that was unheard of a decade ago? The basic rule is “be proactive.” Take control of the narrative and connect with the people who need to hear an honest, brand-positive message. Beyond that, here are three steps to take that will help in just about every conceivable PR crisis.
1. Get real, real fast
In a crisis PR situation, it helps to be as personally honest as possible, to look at the situation in all its ugly clarity. That probably won’t mean sharing all that ugliness outside the walls of the company, but it’s vital that the leader knows exactly how things are, what happened and why, no matter how difficult that truth may be to swallow.
As part of that review, leaders need to look at programs and protocols in place that may have led to or, at the least, contributed to the crisis happening. This includes taking a long, hard, close look at their role in that process. “What could I have done differently?” is an important facet of the larger question, “Why did this happen?”
2. Offer decisive and strategic communication
Once the leadership team has a clear view of what happened, why, and who contributed to the crisis, action needs to be taken, quickly and decisively. Consider all relevant options, but cull the outliers fast, because part of controlling the narrative is having a working plan in place. That’s not to say rushing ahead is the right call. Earn some time and stakeholder goodwill with a statement that the “situation is being reviewed” couched in language that is suitably empathetic and as forthcoming as possible.
Keep the conversation going as a crisis response plan is being designed and implemented. Be calm and deliberate, avoiding decisions that will only make a bad problem even worse.
3. Prioritize and actualize
Crisis PR responses should be designed with a lot of latitude, because the environment is likely to shift and change. Build and implement a plan that can shift with these changes, rather than crashing against them. Expect both critiques and challenges once the plan is working. There are always going to be people who think the response is not enough, and there will be some who feel that it’s too much.
Others will want to bring up past infractions. News stories about the current crisis will likely include at least brief references to any other relatively recent missteps. Take those in stride, stay focused on the issue at hand, and keep moving in a positive direction.