Unfortunately, the old saying that 'there is no bad publicity' is incorrect. But you can survive this.
8 min read
The opinions expressed by collaborators are personal.
Chances are, a public relations crisis will hit you when you least expect it. Face a horrible lawsuit. A health risk puts your supply chain in check. Your CFO said something offensive and went viral. Generally, waking up and finding your company is in the news is a good thing, but when the notes are negative, you have a public relations crisis.
They say that 'bad publicity does not exist'. But having accompanied hundreds of clients through their darkest days in terms of PR, I can attest that this is not correct. “The culture of cancellation” is real. Customers are ready to boycott at the first provocation, and companies are subject to increasingly high ethical standards as the Internet keeps consumers informed. Bad publicity is a terrible way to start a morning, but this usually happens. So what to do in the face of a public relations crisis? First, don't panic. After taking a few deep breaths, consider the following steps.
Think carefully but quickly about what your public response will be
First, meet with your attorney and your RP. Get information from both of them, and make sure that regardless of what happens next, they both share the same perspective. Decide the position you should take, and the ramifications of those decisions. What are the audiences with which you have to communicate and in what order? Both your board of directors and your investors, employees and clients need to be informed, and you will do infinitely better if they find out the news and how you are going to react to it for you, before having to read it in the newspapers. There may be certain legal procedures that you must follow if your company is listed or if there was a data breach, so be sure to adhere to these requirements. Are you going to apologize or stick to what was said? Are you trusting a voice with more authority? Are you doing systematic updates? Are you firm in your position or are you listening to other opinions? Having clarity is essential before anyone in your company comes out to give an answer. Act quickly to determine a position that addresses the problem, stays authentic to your brand, and begins the solution process that works best for you. And if you haven't already, be sure to make it explicitly clear to your employees who is authorized to speak to the press and what to do if they receive a call or question from a journalist. Many crises are substantially worse when someone from the company, even with good intentions, speaks before the manager has a plan in place.
When you are clear about the position to be taken, rehearse. Do not stand in front of the camera “to see how it turns out”, but try not to sound like a robot. It may be best if your initial response comes in writing. Where and how you publish it is also important. Should it go on your website? In social networks? Should you do a press release? An interview with a single journalist? Think about it carefully and use this moment as an opportunity to communicate your brand's message and show your empathy towards the situation, along with your ability to resolve it. Make your response fast, transparent, emotional and consistent with your brand. Take responsibility for the elements you must accept, and as long as you have all the information and are able to analyze it, stick to the resolution you created and avoid blaming others.
Establish preventive measures in the future, and accept your responsibility
Naturally, implementing a preventive step is essential, especially when it comes to serious issues like cybersecurity. Last year was an impressive wake-up call for companies that had been lax with cybersecurity and suffered from public relations crises as a result. In 2018, 1,244 data breaches were reported in the United States that exposed more than 400 million files. This is more than 100 percent from the previous year. And 2019 was even worse (or better, if you're a hacker), with 3,812 attacks that exposed an impressive 4.1 billion files.
As an example, the recent Capital One breach was one of the worst public relations nightmares due to a data hack at one of the largest US banks. Data breach costs a company, on average, about $ 4 million. Capital One can be committed for up to $ 300 million dollars. But the higher costs for this and other public relations nightmares take the form of broken customers and lost trust.
“Customers expect that, by entering your website, you will take charge of the security of their information,” says Uzair Gadit in an interview by mail. He is co-founder and CEO of Puré VPN, a company that offers encryption services and Wi-Fi protection against security breaches. “If you are not taking up-to-date action, you are leaving your brand to be exposed to an expensive and embarrassing nightmare in terms of PR,” he says. “Unfortunately, several brands voluntarily offer their customers' private information because they don't take the proper precautions.”
Regardless of who is to blame for this information breach, customers won't like it. For this and any public relations crisis, it is important to remember that, regardless of whether there are legal consequences, you do not want to risk the trust of your clients. For any crisis (quality of your product, work accidents or violation of information security) that may break the trust of your customers, your best effort should be to take responsibility and fix it.
Make your customers aware again with offers, discounts and refunds
What happens after a crisis? Try to be patient as clients can be fickle, but with constant attention and support, you can get them back. Fortunately and unfortunately, anger manifests itself quickly, but it also passes quickly in the digital age. If you have already made an effective communication, you took responsibility and fixed the problem, it is time to buy flowers for your clients, metaphorically. After attending to your responsibilities, you offer something sweet and tangible to restart the romance. Refunds and discounts bring customers back to your brand and give you an opportunity to offer a positive experience again. It is time to be generous.
Upgrade subscriptions to give them a premium service at no extra cost to affected users. Enter a discounted membership to attract new members. Buy the phones that explode and start designing a new, better model, one that doesn't explode. These are ways to isolate a negative experience from your brand's positive identity.
If you effectively manage your public relations crisis, people often stick with the company they like. In summary:
- Start with a transparent and consistent response to your brand.
- Take care of the problem by solving what caused it and implementing preventive measures for the future.
- Make up for your customers' time by offering them something valuable.
Very important: Nowhere in this process is there a place to cover up, hide or dodge. Companies are run by humans, and we are imperfect, it is part of our definition. A crisis is your chance to show the world how you handle problems. Do it with elegance, responsibility and willingness to solve things. You can even turn this situation around and turn it into good news and good publicity.