How to Handle a Public Relations Crisis

You don’t have to run a multi-billion dollar corporation to worry about your reputation and brand image – even the smallest of businesses can land themselves in a public relations nightmare. Even on the local level, mishandling a PR crisis can be detrimental to a business. Whether that crisis was created inside the company or outside sources are to blame, it’s important that businesses understand it’s not necessarily WHAT caused the crisis but HOW you respond that can make all the difference. This is typically known as crisis communication.

Crisis communication has been simply defined as “a sub-specialty of the public relations profession that is designed to protect and defend an individual, company, or organization facing a public challenge to its reputation.” As a small business owner, you probably don’t have a dedicated PR team to handle a crisis if and when one may appear, but this doesn’t mean you can’t prepare yourself.

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We all make mistakes, but I bet a few of you are wondering what exactly counts as a crisis. Well, there are a number of answers. Maybe your systems were hacked and customer information was stolen. Maybe your customers received a bad product and decided to post a lot of negative feedback about your company. Or maybe you just made a really bad business decision. There are a lot of examples out there that would be considered a crisis, but whatever the reason, it’s important that companies know how to reach out to the community and provide information in a timely and professional manner.  

While it’s impossible to have all the details of every possible crisis planned out, there are a few rules of crisis communication that should be considered:

  • Respond quickly. It’s important for you, as the business owner, to manage the public perception of the crisis as soon as possible. Word travels fast and the sooner you make a statement, the better chance you’ll have to control the narrative.
  • Be honest. This cannot be stressed enough. Even if you don’t have all the facts, be upfront and honest to the public and let them know that your team is working to resolve the issue and you will keep them updated as you learn more. (Remember, not ALL the facts need to be given to the public. Give key information to keep them updated, but only tell them what they NEED to know, not what you WANT to say)
  • Appoint a spokesperson. Choose who will represent the company in the news and media outlets. Let your employees know that only the spokesperson can report to the media and any calls received from media outlets should be referred to that person.
  • Get your spokesperson media-ready. Hold a mock press conference, ask questions they may likely hear from the media, have them practice in front of a camera. This person will be the face of your company during a crisis, it’s important that they are poised, calm, professional, and can properly answer any questions they might receive.
  • If the crisis warrants a press meeting, know ahead of time where that will take place. Your office? Outside the building? In the conference room? It’s important to think about what you want the viewers to see while the spokesperson is being interviewed.

There are so many factors that come into play with a company crisis that you can’t prepare 100%. The good news is there are steps you can take to manage the crisis. These are just some of the steps you can take to minimize any damage that may have been caused. For a more in-depth look at what you can do in a crisis, I would suggest checking out this article from Forbes.

Mindy Lee
Advisor/Marketing Coordinator
Washburn University
America’s SBDC

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