PR 101 – How to Handle a PR Crisis

Unfortunately, it’s not a matter of if, but when…

A PR crisis can be a headache for management, but even if it wasn’t your fault, it’s your job to fix it. Whether it was an internal gaff or an unfortunate external circumstance, you should be ready to deal with all sorts of crises that may arise. The steps below will give you a starting point when it is your turn to deal with a crisis.

  1. Be prepared. By predicting potential crises and developing a framework for dealing with them, you will save precious time when one develops. Routinely monitoring social media platforms should be a cornerstone of your plan because that is often where members of the public first air their grievances. Even if you don’t have a social media presence, your organization can still be discussed, so stay on top by regularly monitoring relevant platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.). Check out these examples of social media’s role in PR crises.
  2. To apologize or not to apologize? This should be one of the first decisions you make when a crisis develops. Just because people are angry doesn’t mean you’ve made a mistake. You may have simply made a tough decision and now you need to stand by it. Reflect on your organization’s standards and ask yourself, ‘Are we in the wrong?’ If so, make the apology immediate and unequivocal. If not, carefully and succinctly lay out your side of the story. Just don’t copy how United handled their crisis last April.

  3. Provide limited, but honest, information. Ask yourself,
    – ‘How does this piece of information fit with our communication strategy?’
    ‘How do we expect this piece of information to shape the public’s perception of us?’ 
    Just because you have all the information doesn’t mean you need to share it immediately. However, you should always be honest and consistent to avoid making a crisis worse.
  4. Take action. Even if you feel like you’re in the right, there’s a reason the public is angry.  Clearly communicate what needs to be done and outline the steps you are taking to solve stakeholder’s complaints. A press release is often the best way to communicate this action. Johnson & Johnson’s handling of the 1982 tampered Tylenol crisis has become a case study for how management should respond with bold action to the worst types of crises.
  5. Evaluate the process. If this was your first PR crisis, it probably won’t be your last. Learn from what did and didn’t work and update your crisis management plans accordingly.

If you would like to review your crisis management strategy, or if you need help dealing with an ongoing PR problem, Targeted Persuasion is here to help.