How to handle a PR crisis
The modern age is full of controversy. Whether it be an unveiling of unethical privacy policies, ill-considered corporate messages being leaked or even physical altercations on live television, there is no telling when the next new crisis will happen. The once old saying “no such thing as bad press” is becoming outdated as brands, organizations and public figures consistently find themselves in the midst of mass media crises. Public relations is the first line of defense in these instances and it is important as ever to stay prepared in the fast-paced digital world.
It is no longer a question of if a PR crisis will happen, but when. With the growth of social media, news can spread instantaneously and call attention to virtually any issue. Founding partner at J Public Relations, Jamie Sigler O’Grady, defined a crisis as “Any negative event related to your business or personal brand that has the ability to gain traction with the public and do damage to your personal reputation, such as an unhealthy business practice, an accident or internal communication issue.” Crisis management is the process of preparing a brand or organization for these issues that pose reputational threats and working to minimize the damage.
Sigler O’Grady recommends having a team of trusted outside counsel, both lawyers and trusted PR partners, to develop a crisis plan for a business. Consistently monitoring social media and being aware of public attitudes and behavior beforehand are good strategies for anticipating disasters before they strike.
Once an issue arises, PR professionals should evaluate the problem to determine what negative impact has occurred and what steps should be taken to help. Plans of action should be made swiftly as information spreads much faster with social media, making it easier for rumors and false information to develop. Silence or late responses have the potential to worsen the situation and lead to larger issues.
Transparency and accountability are now vital components of crisis management in 2022 with the larger presence of a Gen Z audience. Being truthful, genuine and apologetic can help to control the narrative of the situation and earn back any trust lost from the general public. Be compassionate to those who could have been negatively affected and show a genuine desire to repair the damage.
While keeping these general themes in mind, Sigler O’Grady also emphasized every situation does not have the exact same solution in terms of communication. “Sometimes it makes more sense to put a direct statement; sometimes it makes sense to do an interview or post to your audience on social media to spread the word.” Analyzing the negatives and positives of each form of communication is essential to pinpoint who needs to hear what and when.
Thorough plans with concrete strategies are important to have ready before a crisis emerges. Being prepared in a PR role can provide the most benefit to whoever you are representing in the long run.
By Arianna Montalvo
Arianna is originally from the Bay Area but moved to San Diego to attend San Diego State University. Arianna is a third-year student pursuing a bachelor's degree in Journalism with an emphasis in Public Relations and a minor in Spanish. After graduation, Arianna hopes to stay in Southern California and work for a PR firm or media company.