What To Do in a Crisis

In public relations, a crisis can take on many different forms. It can be something as simple as an unflattering comment about your company on a forum or blog, or much more complicated like the recall of a faulty product. Regardless of the magnitude of a situation, a crisis needs to be addressed in the quickest manner possible– that way you will avoid making a bad situation worse.

So what should your company do in the event of a crisis? Below are some things to consider that pertain to any crisis, large or small.

First things first, plan for a crisis: Take some time to sit down with members of your company and predict any and all kinds of crises that may affect your business. No crisis is too large or small to address and each situation should be offset by a basic plan for how it should be handled. In addition, you will need to decide who will be the spokesperson for your company in the event of a crisis. In other words, who will be speaking to the media and the public? This is important to decide so that when the time comes, your company can present the public with a clear message. The spokesperson may change depending on the type or magnitude of the crisis, so it is important to take the spokesperson into consideration when developing your plan.

Don’t hide behind smoke and mirrors: In a crisis situation, it’s important to tell the truth as soon as you can assemble an organized, thoughtful statement. For example, say an employee inadvertently posts a personal tweet on the corporate Twitter page. Address it quickly, point out the mistake and apologize. You will be surprised at how understanding your followers will be because at the end of the day, we all make mistakes.  But what if it’s a larger crisis, say your company sends out a massive shipment of a faulty product? Is it better to let consumers find out on their own? Definitely not. Deliver the message to consumers as soon as you notice the mistake. A classic example of great crisis communication is the Tylenol recall of 1982. Johnson & Johnson acted quickly and effectively, putting the well-being of its customers first and actively communicating as quickly as possible. For more information about how Johnson & Johnson handled the crisis, check out this case study on Crisis Communication.

Choose the appropriate avenues for communication: When a crisis occurs, you will need to address the crisis immediately, but what is the best way to do this? Is it Twitter, Facebook, news media, an email to your customers?  The answer here will depend on the type of crisis. In the first example above, regarding the employee who accidently sent out a personal tweet on the company Twitter page, a quick tweet to your followers is probably the best way to communicate and probably the only avenue necessary. But for the second example, the faulty shipment, more forms of communication may be necessary. It will be important to email your distributors to notify them of the mistake so they can stop distributing your product. If it’s already been distributed to the masses, traditional and social media may need to be employed. This may include a press conference, news release, Twitter, Facebook, forums, blogs or any other method used to communicate to your publics.

Of course every crisis situation is unique, and a plan may be effective in one situation but ineffective in another. When a crisis occurs, take a minute to look at the plan you have in place, make the necessary adjustments and think through the long-term effects of your immediate actions. Remember, it is never fun to admit your company has made a mistake, but it is always better to tell your own story rather than have someone else (like the news media) tell it for you.

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