Every company dreads having a PR disaster. Unfortunately, the larger the company and the longer it lasts, the greater the chances a reckoning is coming. It won’t always be fair and it will rarely be expected but a company can’t panic when their day comes.
Overcoming a PR nightmare is about keeping cool and reacting with logic, not emotion. PR troubles are always bad news but they don’t have to mean your company finances and goodwill need to race to rock bottom.
Enter Crisis Management Mode
If you’re able to describe your current situation as a “PR disaster” then it’s time to enter crisis management mode. Neither you nor any staff should be putting out any communication to the public or press without approval from your team.
Your company will need crisis communications experts who specialize in confronting PR problems. Since few companies have the resources to keep these kinds of experts in-house, find a well-regarded third party to bring in and help you strategize.
It may sound extreme to shut down almost all outgoing communications after a PR disaster but it needs to be said the public isn’t fair. The rage of the internet is like a wild animal; it is chaotic and can explode even further at a transgression far less than the one that started your problems.
Practice Empathy and Compassion
Some of the worst marketing disasters over the past few decades were the result of CEOs and marketing teams coming off as callous or even cruel. For this reason, step back after PR blowback and consider how you appear.
The real moral character of you and your company matter much less than how the public perceives you. Most people see themselves as at least somewhat good people; what matters is how the public sees you.
Our initial emotional reaction to people reacting negatively to a choice we’ve made is often to lash out or double down. This is almost never the right PR move, even if you feel you’re in the moral right.
Instead, practice empathy. Try to determine what about your recent actions angered the public. You don’t have to agree with their views but you need to understand them.
The source of their anger is going to guide your next move. Can you apologize for what occurred? Is it possible to make it up to those who feel wronged?
Never Assume Good Faith
Dealing with the public in the digital age can be difficult because you’re not dealing with individuals. You’re dealing with a sea of voices and changing the minds of many people at once isn’t easy.
The mistake some companies make is trying to address the loudest voices and change their point of view. However, this rarely works for a number of reasons.
First, many platforms (notably Twitter) are not designed for reasonable debate. They often empower those who are loud, drown out dissent, and who reject nuance.
Second, very few debates online are in good faith. Most people don’t want to engage with your company on the morality of what happened or how you might make amends. They want to express their anger and to see you fail.
If that sounds harsh, that’s simply the nature of a PR disaster. People have been pushed to a point of anger where rational discussion is very hard. Moreover, that anger can snowball and make once reasonable people mad enough that they too can’t be totally reasoned with.
Short Memory, Long Record
There is good news and bad news when it comes to PR. The good news is the public’s attention is limited. Companies that have done much worse than you have had people move on in only a few weeks or months.
The bad news is that the internet has had us entering an age where almost nothing is fully forgotten. Even if the storm of bad press passes, a pool of bad will can remain for a very long time if not addressed.
That long memory also means that transgressing in the same way again might cause even more anger. This is why it’s important after every crisis that a company reassess itself and install procedures to prevent the same issues from occurring again.
People want change and repentance. An effort to ensure that whatever sparked the public’s anger doesn’t occur again can go a long way to soothing that same anger.
An Expensive Fix Beats a Disastrous Year
Many companies hesitate to fix PR blunders because they see the expense of the fix. However, an equation needs to be run before they shy away from those costs.
If your PR has reached a point where you’re seeing major boycotts or staff morale has plummeted, the next few months or even the whole year could be a financial disaster. At that point, a big expense to help fix the issue may well be worth it.
Knowing what that fix might look like is a harder question but one you need an answer to. Once you’ve identified why people are angry, it should be one of your team’s top priorities to figure out the best way to soothe that anger.
A PR Disaster Doesn’t Mean the End
A PR disaster isn’t good; that’s why it’s a disaster. However, your company can recover if you go quiet, assess the situation, and approach the trouble with a plan.