Not all news is good news, particularly when it’s a crisis involving your client’s company. No matter how long it took for a brand to build credibility, it can all be washed away with one swift wave of negative press. With agencies of record often not specializing in crises communications, having an instant game and step by step strategy in place can help to reduce a potential media storm or turn a negative into a positive.
Here’s four management tips to guide you through a crisis.
- Meet With Your Team and Strategize
Before taking any action, call a meeting with your PR team. Internal marketing, sales and development teams or advisors may need to be brought into the fold, depending on the depth and breadth of the crisis. As a group, decide if it makes sense to respond, or not to respond, to the crisis.
How do you know when to respond? A crisis will usually fall under one of the following scenarios:
- Scenario 1: Negative Article or Post from Small Publication
Sometimes an article will get posted that has no weight, and nobody sees it. In fact, nobody can find it. But because you have industry authority, if you post anything against it, you automatically give it weight and cause it to spread. In this scenario, don’t respond.
Of course, the exception to this rule is when people are already commenting on the article.
- Scenario 2: Negative Article or Post from Large Publication
When it involves a major publication, the likelihood of it being noticed is greater. In this situation, a response is necessary.
Listen to your team’s suggestions. Everyone’s input is valuable; you want to give the best possible response you can give. Craft a response that details what steps your company is taking to rectify the issue. And plan to follow-through on your promises. It’s bad to be called out once for a crisis. It’s even worse to be called out on the same crisis twice.
- Scenario 3: Bad PR on Social Media
Thanks to social media, bad PR can now travel faster than a speeding bullet and it’s important to respond when necessary. Your client’s brand should be listening for complaints online to address them early on. A genuine response is appreciated, too, like this one with the popular grocer Whole Foods Market:
When responding, address the complaint or crisis ASAP! Don’t let the issue simmer, hoping it will die down. By then, the news is dead, the damage is done, and your client (or yourself!) may have lost a customer or two as a result.
- Avoid Using Canned Responses
You may see a true PR crisis once every 12 to 18 months for a brand, which isn’t often. However, you have to handle each individually and personally; no two crises are the same. For each, there are many moving parts (i.e. where did it show up in, who wrote it, what did they actually say?)
Canned answers never work because they look careless. It’s like trying to fit a round peg into a square hole. You need an answer specifically tailored to that situation.
If negative press is published, and the press is clearly being read and shared, consult your client to respond directly in the comment section of the post. This demonstrates that you’re aware of the complaint or issue, and details to readers how you’re resolving the situation.
But don’t forget to address the issue on social media, too. Cover backlash from people sharing or giving commentary on the negative press. Being proactive with your responses will help slow the burn.
- Stop Trying to Please Everyone
Let’s face it, every company, big and small, will have good and bad press. Take Google for instance. Of course they have bad press, yet they do a great job of keeping the positive press flowing. By focusing attention on their investments, donations, and positive product adjustments, they dominate newsfeeds with everything they are doing right. And when a crisis does come up, it quickly disappears. That’s the kind of approach most companies should have.
No person or company is going to get a 100% approval rating, however that should be your goal. If something does break and you have to fix it, just do the best you can. Address the issue, and move on.
You’re never going to please everybody, and that’s okay.
- Look at the Crisis from All Angles
Whether you discover your client’s email servers are running bots or you find a bad product review, consider the crisis a valuable learning experience. Perhaps repeated negative comments about a product could lead to a review by internal R&D teams. Sometimes even the worst of press can have a positive spin or positive results.
By reviewing your crisis from all angles, you’ll see not only how your or your client company should respond, but how it can impact your customers. Maybe they have a legitimate complaint and it can actually help you build more sales. Either way, don’t dwell on the crisis. You have an opportunity to fix the problem and recover from the negative press.
And above all else, remember when building your crisis management strategy: nobody, including your critics, is perfect.