PR crisis. Two words that seem like a distant nightmare. In an ideal world, a well-managed company wouldn’t have to worry about a PR crisis. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world. The question is not if a crisis will strike, but when will it happen. And once crisis occurs, you should have a set of PR crisis management rules in place.
The rules of PR crisis management are general rules that will help organisation of any size manage their presence during a crisis situation.
All the rules might seem a bit overwhelming. To make it a bit more digestible, we divided the crisis management rules into three groups:
- Pre-crisis management
- Crisis management
- Post-crisis management
That way, you will know how to act along every step of the way.
Without further ado, here are the golden rules for PR crisis management!
What is crisis management in PR?
The broad definition of crisis management states that it is the process of preparing an organisation for major event that threatens the organisation, its stakeholders, or general public.
PR professionals play a vital part in crisis management. PR department is responsible for external and internal communication. During a crisis the main goal of a PR department would be to inform all interested parties about the current situation, potential risks, and planned actions.
A PR team is the first line of defence between your company and the public. Whether you leave the crisis unscathed depends largely on how well you handle a PR crisis management.
When should you react to a PR crisis?
To successfully manage a PR crisis, you need to know when to react.
Not every negative comment constitutes a PR crisis.
You can implement a triage technique to assess the severity of the potential crisis. Assessing the problem early will help you manage the crisis and not waste any resources on unnecessary actions.
The technique is relatively easy. You have to give any situation that you consider threatening the right colour.
Green is for the situations that don’t require any immediate actions from you. For example, when one of your competitors is facing a crisis, that doesn’t necessarily have to affect your business. There is a chance though that the crisis will affect your business in some way. Monitor the situation closely and react when necessary.
Orange PR crisis is for situations that could possibly harm your business. Think about one negative review out of hundreds positive. You should keep an eye on it, but don’t summon your PR crisis management team just yet.
Red is when you have to act quickly and decisively. Your company is in imminent danger and you have to call in your PR crisis response team. Code red includes situations that could damage your brand reputation or disturb supply chains.
Remember that situation can escalate quickly and go from code green to orange or even red in a couple of hours. That’s why it’s important to constantly monitor the situation.
Guide to dealing with a PR crisis
There’s bad news and there’s good news.
The bad news is, a PR crisis will hit your organization someday.
The good news is, you can prepare for a PR crisis and minimise the damage.
You actively implement PR crisis management strategies that will help you contain the crisis. Moreover, having a robust PR crisis management strategy in place will ensure your employees know exactly what to do.
Take a look at the PR crisis management guide and start implementing the PR crisis management plan.
Listen to the online chatter about your brand
We live in a world that’s always online. The chances are, the crisis will begin online on a channel that’s not owned by you.
To prevent an escalation of an online crisis, you have to be aware of what people say about your company or product.
The proliferation of online channels makes it impossible to track all online mentions regarding your brand online.
A simple solution is a media monitoring tool.
A media monitoring tool, for example, Brand24, gathers publicly available online mentions containing your predefined keyword.
Let’s see how it works in practice!
First, you have to set up a project.
As mentioned before, enter the keywords related to your brand, product, or service. It can be the name of your product, the name of your service, your slogan, or any other keyword people use to talk about your company.
From that moment on, a media monitoring tool starts to collect all publicly available online mentions.
Brand24 offers much more than just a collection of online posts. The tool will also analyse the mentions. You can tag them according to your needs, so you get the most important information analysed.
From a PR crisis management perspective, which features of a media monitoring tool are the most relevant?
Let’s go through the list one by one!
Sentiment analysis and the volume of mentions
Brand24 will automatically assign a sentiment to the collected online mentions.
You will see whether the talk about your brand is positive, negative, or neutral.
To get the most out of media monitoring and sentiment analysis, combine the metric with the volume of mentions.
The volume of mentions is the total number of mentions within a defined timeframe.
A spike in the number of mentions and prevailing negative sentiment is an indicator of a PR crisis in the making.
On the other hand, a spike of positively marked mentions means you’re doing a great job!
If you’re monitoring mentions around a large company or popular product, you’ll receive a ton of mentions.
They all might be relevant to your project, but you might need to examine only some part of the online chatter.
To help you with that task, we develop a handful of filters you can use in your project.
Here’s what you can find in the dashboard:
- filter by country
- filter by interactions
- filter by the number of visits
- filter by domain
- filter by public profile
- filter by date
- filter by sentiment
Which filters are useful when it comes to the PR crisis management?
For sure, you have to take into account the number and type of interactions and the number of visits.
This will help you assess the pace in which the news spreads online and whether the content is getting traction with other users.
The domain filter will help you pinpoint the earned channels where your company is popular. It doesn’t necessarily mean you should invest in a profile on the platform, but you should monitor where the conversation is headed.
Filtering by public profiles can help you spot any influential public profiles talking about the company you’re interested in.
Their posts tend to attract high levels of attention, so it’s vital to know whether some of them are posting about your brand.
To be able to prevent a PR crisis from spreading, you have to be aware of it.
That’s why you need a robust notifications system. Brand24’s notification system allows you to receive all mentions or already filtered ones.
In Brand24, we offer three types of notifications that will help you manage a PR crisis:
- Slack notifications. That’s my personal favourite. Every time there’s a new mention in the dashboard, you’ll receive a Slack notification. That way, you can stay up to date all the time.
- Email notifications. If you don’t have access to Slack, you can opt for email notifications. You can receive real-time, hourly, every six hours, every 12 hours, daily, weekly, or monthly notifications.
- In-app notifications. Brand24 offers app both for iOS and Android. You can see all the mentions from your projects right on your phone.
Cooperate with influencers
Once your brand, product, or service is under fire, you should look for people who can vouch for it.
That’s why you should take a look at influencers and top public profiles who could endorse your brand during and after the crisis.
The key to a successful influencer campaign is to choose the right person to work with. The most suited influencers are probably already talking about your brand.
A media monitoring tool will help you find the best influencers to help you deal with a PR crisis.
Once you log into your project, go to the Analysis tab. There, you can find two tables – the most popular public profiles and most active public profiles.
Of course, you still have to vet the names. Examine what type of content do they post, how the engagement looks like under their posts, and on which social media platforms thety are active. Based on the analysis, choose the right influencer to endorse your brand.
Always be prepared
You might think that your product is superb and your organization works smoothly. That doesn’t mean you’re immune to crisis.
Nowadays, the question is not if a PR crisis hits you, but rather when will it happen.
That’s why you should have a crisis management plan in place. No matter when a PR crisis occurs, every member from all strategic departments within your company will know how to react and what to do.
The crisis management plan could also help new employees that join your company during a PR crisis. The new hires will immediately know how to act and what’s the company strategy in the time of crisis.
Classify the problems and don’t overreact
Not every negative remark about a brand constitutes a PR crisis. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t respond to negative statements.
Just don’t pull your full artillery on a negative Google review.
Think about the impact of the crisis on the overall performance of your company.
Is the senior management involved in containing the PR crisis? Does the crisis have an impact on your revenue? Can it hurt your brand reputation?
If the answer to any of this questions is yes, you should implement your PR crisis management plan right away.
Once you know you’re dealing with a PR crisis situation, you have to act fast.
Time is of the essence.
The sooner you address the issue, the greater the chance you’ll be able to control the narrative and minimise the damage.
People expect a response with no time. There won’t be time to craft some well-thought reply.
That’s why you should prepare some generic answers that you can publish right away or twitch just a bit.
The goal is to give an impression you have the situation under control. There will be time for more detailed explanations later in the process.
Identify the first response unit
You need to train your employees so they know what to do and how to act.
It’s vital to point to the right employees and clearly define their responsibilities. The best team will be clueless if they don’t know who should perform certain tasks.
This will ensure that your crisis communication will run smoothly and everyone will be at the right place at the right time.
Evaluate the crisis situation
The trained personnel should assess the PR crisis situation and act accordingly.
Every PR crisis requires different approach and reaction.
That’s why the first action of a PR crisis response team should be damage assessment and control.
Depending on the size and possible implications of a PR crisis, the team should choose an appropriate response.
After the team decides what to do, they should start counteracting the effects of a PR crisis.
Prepare the final plan of action
You have your holding statements that should buy you some time. Now, it’s time to prepare the final plan of action.
Your response will depend on your industry. There are, however, some general rules you should obey.
For starters, be honest. Of course, you want to minimise the damage, but denying the crisis, shifting blame, or omitting the details will only worsen the crisis.
Owning your mistakes will show that you’re a mature organisation ready to repair the damage done.
PR crisis analysis
The final step is equally important as the previous ones. Remember that you can learn a lot from all your mistakes.
That’s why it’s so important to analyse the PR crisis management plan.
What was done right? Which parts failed? What can you improve?
That’s the time to evaluate the performance of your crisis response team. Do the members need any additional training? Should you change the roles within the team? Add new members?
Take a look at the response to the PR messages you’ve send out. Could you improve them in any way? Use different distribution channels? Change the tone? The wording?
Assessing the PR crisis management will give you necessary insights into the PR crisis management strategy.
PR crisis management tools
Once you know what to do before, during, and after crisis, you may want to know which tools could possibly help you handle the situation.
Besides a media monitoring tool, which we mentioned earlier, you should make some research and have a PR crisis management tools stack in place.
Firstly, you need a tool to communicate easily with your employees. I recommend Slack, as it allows to make calls, create dedicated channels, and share documents in a safe environment.
As you never know when a crisis will hit, you should have available others ways of communicating with your PR crisis response team. Have the phone numbers and emails stored in a separate file. Make sure to update the information regularly.
How to prevent a PR crisis?
Knowing all the facts mentioned above, you probably have one question – can you avoid a PR crisis all together?
Unfortunately, you can’t. You are dependent on others – your suppliers, vendors, employees, or other circumstances you can’t predict.
However, you can always prepare to a PR crisis. It’s not an easy task, as you never know what might hit you and how long the crisis will take.
When it comes to handling a PR crisis, you should always expect the unexpected.
How to handle a PR crisis?
A PR crisis is not the end of the world. The key is to be prepared. Start with listening to the online chatter about your brand and preparing a PR crisis management plan.
Once a crisis hits, you will know what to do. Some crises you can’t prevent, but surely you can minimise the damage.
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