Consider the following scenario: A business in a small town has received a flood of angry emails, phone calls, and public social media messages that could potentially destruct their business. A few days before this outburst local pranksters put up a sign on the storefront with a message saying disabled people were "unwelcome" and "we can't help you" among other things. Pedestrians have perceived the note as unapologetic yet seemingly legitimate. Locals, non-locals, and the press have backfired with concerns and anger. This business is in the middle of a PR crisis.
So, what is one to do when faced with public and damaging circumstances? First and foremost, any business is capable of falling into the hands of a public crisis, so it's important to know when to act and how to act if it happens to you. There is a way to pull out of it safely without compromising your business's image. Here are five tips to consider if you face a PR crisis:
1. Have a plan for dealing with the media: If you accept an interview, have a straightforward message and stay on point. Don’t get sucked into a conversation where you're underprepared. Sometimes, reporters will cleverly rearrange statements to make for a more exciting story.
2. Determine who will speak to the media: Identify a specific spokesperson who has a firm grasp on the issue at hand. In a smaller business, typically the senior manager is the best spokesperson. For larger companies, an employee such as the head of HR should communicate with the media.
3. Consider hiring professional help: Depending on the size and severity of the story, you may be well advised to hire a professional who has experience in crisis management. Such people can provide useful input on how to handle a difficult situation. If you face criminal or civil charges as a result of the report, consult an attorney who has experience with these types of issues.
4. Don't make the situation worse: There are several ways to make a crisis worse including becoming angry or defensive with the media. If you face legal charges such as unsafe working conditions in your plant, this is not the time to give the VP of manufacturing a big bonus. Understand that these behaviors only create more questions and fuel unwanted attention.
5. Own up to your shortcomings: Although you may want to become defensive, owning up to misconduct is wise in a PR crisis. Trying to cover things up almost always makes matters worse. Follow up with what steps your business will take to avoid similar situations in the future.
If you find your business at the center of unwanted attention, it's important to act quickly and carefully. Think before your act because your instinct may not be the best course of action and you don't want to make things worse. Follow these five simple tips to handle a PR crisis with grace and professionalism.