When you offer a product for consumption and put your brand into the public square, sooner or later you’ll likely find yourself in the midst of a PR crisis. Your integrity will be challenged, your patience will be tested and you’ll feel attacked from all sides. It’s what you do in those moments that go a long way toward determining whether you’ll make it through the crisis, or if it will define your brand going forward.
Get your message out to the right audience
The first step in dealing with a PR crisis is to clearly identify what went wrong and what your audience needs to hear so you can begin to make it right. That natural question, then, is how do you get that message out there. Many media outlets have a vested interest in promoting one side of the story or another. You need an outlet that’s more apt to be on your side, or that understands your brand and your industry enough to be fair and impartial.
This takes work and preparation, as well as building relationships with reporters, especially those within your industry, before the crisis happens. Then, when you find yourself in trouble, you’ll already have an open, strong connection with a media source that will take your call and listen to your side of the story, then present it to the people you need to hear it.
Industry media are a good first step here, because they already understand terms, dynamics and nuances you’d have to explain to media sources outside the industry. They get how to talk both to you and your audience.
Deliver a consistent, controlled message
When dealing with a PR crisis, you need a simple, consistent message. It creates confusion when some people on your team are saying one thing while you’re saying another, and it comes across as disingenuous, even if it’s simply an honest miscommunication. So, be absolutely certain everyone on your team understands what they’re supposed to say and when they’re supposed to say it.
Message control is important here. Do your best to communicate through sources that will give you the most control over the content of your message and aren’t likely to distort that message.
Plan your strategy now
The midst of a PR crisis isn’t the time to be thinking about multi-level media strategies. It’s the time to be focusing on a message and proactively delivering that message. Much of the strategic thinking should have already happened.
When you know who’ll be responsible for what in a crisis, there’s less uncertainty and more positive action. Set up a template for how you’ll respond and who will deliver which messages to what audiences. That way, everyone knows their role, and they’re prepared to deliver when the harsh light of crisis is pointed in your direction.
Remember, perception matters as much as the actual message. Plan ahead, and you’ll come off looking prepared and professional, as opposed to disorganized and flustered.