If you want people to talk about your brand or business, you have to understand that people will talk about your brand or business. In 2023, your public reputation ( PR ), visibility, and brand reputation were general knowledge, and whilst we can do our best to manage the communications, invariable, things happen, and it feels almost impossible to keep a potential PR crisis under wraps or behind the scenes.
In our social media world, a crisis can hit at any time – Obviously, the word ‘crisis’ is subjective. To the micro or small business, it could be a case of negative consumer sentiment after a complaint or service issue. To a global brand, it could be a health & safety endangerment, negative practice by an employee or senior leader, or worse. Either way, these things are important to ‘expect’ at some point in the journey and the key is in preparation and planning.
That said, once we accept that these things are bound to happen to the best of us, we’d like to share our TishTash 3-step plan for handling a PR crisis. It’s perfectly possible to successfully manage a crisis and come out the other side brand ‘stronger’ but that is based entirely on how it is handled.
This advice works in two parts – firstly, investigate and find out exactly what has happened, where, when and to whom. Speak to anyone and everyone involved internally and listen to all the details. Get a clear, honest, and transparent picture of every part of the story. Then, it’s time to ‘listen’ to the public – again, a clear overview of what people are saying via social channels by searching and monitoring, or exactly what the complainant has said privately (if there is yet to be any negative publicity).
Internally, you need any staff or stakeholders to understand that this is no time for hiding anything, and is not about blame. No solid business or brand attacks ‘crisis communication’ well by ignoring it. This tactic will always come back to bite, so it’s vital to have all the ‘facts’ in place before moving forward.
Get the message!
When you’ve fully done your homework and listened to the facts – it’s time to craft a response. This ‘messaging’ is a sum of the key points, explanations, and solutions offered that you want to convey to the media and/or the public. The old-fashioned and frankly ridiculous view of ‘keeping quiet’ or ‘under wraps’ does absolutely nothing for your brand or business reputation and goes a long way to negate any trust or loyalty you may have already built up.
This messaging should cover: The type of information your stakeholders will be looking for – your stakeholders are anyone involved or with an interest, internally and the public/clients/customers. What do they need to know, and then – again total transparency is key.
Keep it simple. Have no more than three main messages to communicate with all stakeholders and also some audience-specific messages for individual groups of stakeholders. You’ll need to adapt your messaging to different forms of media as well. If sharing on Twitter, your character limits may mean you have to have a link to a website for the full statement, or indeed utilize text in graphic imagery to be able to post on social media channels alongside fuller statements for the press or your website.
- Verified information – the facts. Do NOT get defensive here.
- 5W’s – who, what, where, when and why.
- When information is limited, or you really cannot say any more at this stage – promise further statements to be shared accordingly.
- Present negatives in a broader context – ‘despite this isolated incident, we continue to provide our ‘000’s of customers.’ for example
- Express empathy and take action – ‘We were saddened and disappointed to note that.’ – ‘taking appropriate measures
- DO NOT make any promises that you cannot guarantee – including admitting blame in serious circumstances that require legal/health and safety support.
This isn’t about rushing in, but careful planning for potential crisis scenarios should be built into your PR strategy as a matter of course. Modern audiences require immediacy, so when you have gathered facts and agreed on messaging, it’s vital to go out with your considered, appropriate response as soon as you can and across all appropriate channels.
You can simply link to a longer statement on your website for example from social media channels or contact key media yourselves being proactive as opposed to reactive. Be willing to respond to any comments left of course, however, use your message framework carefully in these instances and reach out to people privately when appropriate.
Remember that the key to good crisis communications is to handle them with immediacy and transparency. Things happen, and people appreciate a brand or business that responds with honesty and empathy and of course the facts and solutions. Make sure you have the right spokespeople to handle these for you too. It’s a good idea to have pre-planned scenarios and messaging worked through so that when the time comes you are confident in handling a Public Relation PR crisis should it come to it.
TishTash manages brand reputation and communications for hundreds of clients across the UAE and wider GCC – if you are looking for a safe pair of hands when it comes to perception, thought leadership, and even crisis communications in PR for your brand or business – get in touch!