A PR crisis can be a serious blow to your brand, resulting in lower sales, negative publicity, and damaged customer trust. A great crisis communication plan can help you weather a storm of bad press, making it easier to get past the incident and salvage your brand identity.
In the age of the internet, a PR nightmare can sneak up on you. A single bad customer experience can go viral in a matter of hours, catching you off guard and leaving no time to plan a response. No one is immune in 2013, the Office quebecois de la langue francaise came under fire on social media after an inspector directed the owner of an Italian restaurant to replace Italian words such as “pasta” with French equivalents in order to be compliant with Quebec’s language law.
Writing a Crisis Communication Plan
When you’re in the midst of a PR disaster, a crisis communication plan can be a lifesaver. It lays out specific steps so your employees can immediately jump into action. For the most effective response, write your plan long before a crisis, and update it frequently. At a minimum, the plan should:
- Assign specific employees to fill roles including official spokesperson, assistant spokesperson, media coordinator, community liaison, speech writer, and social media director
- Identify friendly industry influencers at news outlets and on social media who might be willing to share your side of the story
- Set a timeline for responses
- Provide a list of social media profiles and internet platforms to be updated
- List your stakeholders that require updates during a crisis, including customers, partners, employees, and board members
- Instruct your employees how to activate dark platforms
- Offer guidelines to help your spokespeople respond with the correct tone
- Lay out steps for making amends with customers who were wronged
- Explain how to rehabilitate the brand going forward with policy changes, marketing campaigns, or discounts
Striking the Right Tone
The way your company responds to a crisis can have a lasting impact. A fast, honest response can go a long way in easing public anger and speeding the rehabilitation process. Whenever possible, admit responsibility, offer a genuine apology, and state how you plan to fix the situation. Be sure to get the facts so you can avoid the mistakes of United Airlines’ CEO Oscar Munoz, who sent out a tone-deaf response after a passenger was violently dragged from one of the company’s planes. Instead, follow the example of the National Bank of Canada, which alerted customers after a data breach, explained how it happened, and offered free credit monitoring to the affected customers.
In a crisis, your employees won’t have time to build websites and internet graphics. Dark platforms, which are inactive websites or apps, can be a great solution. Build the platforms ahead of time, making one for each likely crisis. If you deal with sensitive customer information, for example, you should have an informational page ready to publish in case of a data breach. Include as much information as you can without knowing the specifics; after an incident, you can update the page. The faster you can offer a solution, the easier it is to make amends with customers.
After the dust has settled, you must rebuild trust with your customer base. Avoid the temptation to go dark; instead, keep talking. Offer updates about how you are fixing the problem, and explain procedures for preventing future issues. Continued communication can reassure customers that you are taking the issue seriously and making real changes.
A PR nightmare can be expensive and time consuming, but it doesn’t need to be the end for your business. With a plan in place and a quick, appropriate response, you can move past the issue and rebuild your brand identity.