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Well handled, a PR crisis can give you an opportunity to illustrate your business’ core values and concern for your customers.

You’re enjoying your mid-morning cup of tea when your phone rings.

It’s your friend. She tells you that your business is trending negatively on Twitter. A disgruntled customer wrote a thread about poor treatment from your business. The thread went viral, with other customers coming forward with similar claims. A reporter has called the office to get an official statement on the matter.

If you are a small business owner, it is unlikely that you have proper public relations machinery in place. But this doesn’t mean that you won’t have to deal with PR issues. How you respond to a crisis will have a huge impact on how your business is viewed, both within and outside the industry. If you make the wrong moves, what might seem like a minor PR crisis can eventually shut down your business. Once your business reputation is tarnished, it might be very hard to recover.

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Well handled, a PR crisis can give you an opportunity to illustrate your business’ core values and concern for your customers.

Don’t Ignore it

One of the worst ways to handle a PR crisis is ignoring it in the hopes that it will just go away. Your customers and the general public want to see accountability and ownership of any mistakes that have occurred.

They want transparency about the steps your business will take to rectify the problem and ensure that it doesn’t happen again. For instance, they might want to know if the offending employee will face any disciplinary measures. Staying silent or delaying communication with your customers and the public will probably do more harm than good to your brand.

Create a plan

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Don’t respond without a plan in place. Even before a crisis happens, every organisation/business should have a crisis communication plan that defines your strategy and outlines the steps to take to rectify the problem.

Just like a marketing plan, a crisis communication plan includes goals, target audiences, tactics and ways to measure results. Your crisis communication should outline the potential issues your business might encounter, the spokesperson, media strategy and post-crisis analysis.

 Identify a task force and discuss how to engage on social media and mainstream media. Before responding, carefully analyse social media discussions. This will show you what the general concern is so you don’t come off as ‘tone deaf’ in your response. You can come up with two or three key points that you will reinforce in all your communication. If the allegations against your business are false, have the evidence ready to back up your side of the story.

It’s advisable to have a designated crisis management team or an individual to respond to the crisis. Don’t allow anybody else from the company to speak to the press or address the public on social media. This is to ensure that the company speaks with a single, consistent voice. 

Communicate openly

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Every PR crisis will have its unique aspects, which might determine the best way to respond to it. However, one principle that every crisis calls for is clear and open communication. The guiding principle for crisis communication is to tell the truth. In your public statements, stick to what you can prove. Don’t make speculative statements.

Also, don’t be drawn into playing the blame game and arguing back and forth with the media and the public. If you are not careful, this can easily lead to a downward spiral that will make the situation even worse. Let the public know that you’re working to rectify the problem.

Rebuild your reputation

If well handled, a PR crisis will only damage your reputation in the short-term. After responding to a current crisis, it is important that you go back to the drawing board to figure out what you need to do build your long-term reputation. Do you need to boost your advertising campaigns? Should you work with social media influencers to restore your reputation? How can you improve your product or services to boost customers’ trust?

Remember, your competitors will probably use your PR crisis to convince your customers that they’re a better option. Therefore, every advertisement, new product launch and strategy should be carefully evaluated to boost trust.

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If you can afford it, hire an expert

In some cases, hiring a PR expert is advisable. The expert will be able to calmly and objectively analyse the situation and come up with the best strategy to handle it. Don’t hire just any PR expert, go for one who has experience in crisis management. They will have the right media contacts and skills needed to handle the situation and rebuild your reputation.  

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