Hey, business owner! We see you over there—generating new leads, making sales and generally killing it. But listen, we need to have a heart-to-heart. Why don’t you lie down on this couch over here and relax a bit?
So, here’s the thing: bad things are going to happen. I’m not trying to be a Negative Nancy (Cynical Christina?), but with all of life’s highs come contrasting lows. If you own a business, public relations crises are inevitable.
We can do this the easy way or we can do this the hard way. Depending on how you handle them, they can either be a blip on the radar (the easy way) or downright catastrophic to your business (the hard way).
What’s your choice? That’s what I thought…
A PR crisis can take over your life, steal your free time and impact your bottom line. These situations are never fun, but they can be easier to handle if you’re prepared ahead of time.
Even if you have a seemingly harmless business, something worthy of negative news coverage will eventually happen, which leads me to my first point…
1. Do Some Disaster Roleplay
No business is immune to a PR crisis, no matter how harmless they seem.
Say you own an adorable doggy dessert food truck with a massive Instagram following. Between giving out free carob chip cookie samples to fluffy customers and garnering internet fame, it’s a tough life.
Then, BOOM. A biker falls in front of your truck while driving from site to site. He’s sent to the hospital in critical condition.
Here are the other possible hazards associated with this too-cute food truck:
- An ingredient source changes and accidentally gives a bunch of dogs a foodborne illness
- Two dogs get into a bloody fight in the line outside your food truck
- You park in the wrong parking lot and get into an argument with the landlord, who calls the local news
Think about the most likely disasters that could arise from the nature of your business. Crowdsource the possibilities from all employees—not just higher ups that rarely think about ground level operations.
Sure, there is the occasional freak crisis that no one could have seen coming, but by doing a little disaster roleplay, you will touch on the primary pain points that could one day evolve into a PR disaster.
2. Make Your Phone Tree
When disaster strikes, the right people need to know as soon as possible. Who is that on your team?
By creating a phone tree for PR crisis notification, you won’t be thinking “Well, that sucks! Who do I tell first?!” You’ll automatically know that when disaster strikes, you will be calling one person or group of people to inform them of the situation. Everyone on your team should know this plan. Make it a part of your employee onboarding and ongoing education.
Remember, if this is truly an emergency, call 911 first. Second should be your PR representative. From there, your PR rep can determine who should know next.
Don’t have a PR rep? Here’s my card:
The last thing you want is for your CEO to get a call from the media before they’re even made aware of the situation. Don’t get caught with your pants down! (Which is an entirely different PR crisis…)
3. Have a Baseline Media Statement
Sure, you don’t know what the crisis will be yet, but the moment you become aware of a media worthy situation, you should be drafting a statement just in case a reporter comes sniffing around.
(Note: DO NOT send this out to the media proactively unless the crisis is already well-known. You do not want to perk the media’s ears to controversy. Their ignorance is your bliss!)
A good media response should be succinct, compassionate and factual. Resist the urge to over-explain, be dramatic, use hyperbole or make excuses. Here is a recent example we crafted for a client that was hurled into a rather unusual PR crisis, with select information redacted to protect the innocent:
“[Business] has been an institution and meeting point in the community for more than 30 years, and we pride ourselves on creating a welcoming and safe atmosphere for our guests and employees.
On [date], a customer requested a [service] that we couldn’t accommodate due to [an overlapping service]. The customer was angered by this response and the encounter escalated to the verbal and physical harassment of members of our staff. She was then asked to leave.
We’ve learned that the woman [made a video with false accusations about the staff.] We unequivocally deny these allegations and acted in an entirely professional manner in an effort to protect our customers and staff. We will continue to welcome all visitors and members of our community through our doors.”
This response was short, sweet and only gave the facts the media needs to cover the story—no extras. It had heartfelt wording that could be used as pull quotes on the evening news. Most importantly, it didn’t offer any information that wasn’t previously known to the media.
So you already have my card. What other questions can I answer? Reach out to TJA we’ll help get your PR crisis plan in place.
- 3 Ways to Prepare for Your Inevitable PR Crisis - July 13, 2021
- 3 Hacks for Getting Reporters to Open (And Read!) Your Pitches - May 21, 2021
- How to Get the Most Out of One PR Pitch - March 9, 2021