Looking in the mirror is the best PR advice there is when dealing with crisis situations. It ensures we do the right thing.
Bad news tends to hit harder and stick around longer than good news.
So, when a PR crisis hits, it’s important for companies to think carefully about how they respond.
“Instead of arguing publicly, acknowledge people’s concerns and questions and respond to the right conversations,” says Solomon Thimothy, president of OneIMS and member of the Forbes Agency Council. “Write a press release and post on social media to control the situation and get the message visible.”
Here’s what to keep in mind before, during and after you craft your press release addressing the crisis.
1. It’s OK if you don’t have all the answers immediately
When a crisis hits, chances are you won’t know all the information — but you are expected to say something.
Brand and marketing strategist Alex Honeysett suggests that companies should send out holding statements while gathering all the important information. These can be as simple as a tweet alerting the public that the company is aware of the situation and working to respond to it.
“Then, once you’ve gathered the who, what, where, why and how, draft a more comprehensive statement, which will replace your holding statement,” Honeysett writes in a blog post for The Muse. “This should address what happened, when it happened and include an update on the status of the issue.”
2. Use clear and direct language
Avoidance is a natural reaction to bad news. It makes sense to try to soften the blow by being vague or generalizing the situation.
However, a press release that dances around the subject often leaves the reader with more questions — and less faith in the company’s ability to answer them. When you sit down to write your release, figure out what the core message is and be direct and clear in your delivery of that message.
3. Be transparent
Transparency is vital in marketing strategy and overall brand loyalty, but it doesn’t just stop there. When announcing bad news, it’s important to be transparent about what you know and how you’re addressing the problem.
“Your customers don’t expect you and your teams to be perfect,” states marketing and leadership writer Ekaterina Walter. “Just transparent and honest.”
Even a nominal show of transparency can go a long way. For example, letting the public know that you’re still gathering information can make a better impression than if you simply said “no comment.”
4. Show empathy
When clients, customers or the general public have been affected adversely by your news, it’s important to say you’re sorry — and to mean it.
“When the you-know-what hits the fan, the first rule of crisis management is to turn off the fan,” said Kim Miller, president and creative director of Ink Link Marketing LLC. “Don’t fuel the fire. Step back, put yourself in the consumers’ shoes and ask, ‘How would I feel if this happened to me?’ Looking in the mirror is the best PR advice there is when dealing with crisis situations. It ensures we do the right thing. And right beats spin every time.”
5. Keep the lines of communication open
Unfortunately, the crisis is not over once you send out your release. Clients, the media and anyone else impacted will continue to have questions.
It’s important the release provides an idea of next steps or a way to get more information. That could be via social media, a help line or other general contact information. Providing updates via social media can be an effective way for your team to maintain control of the situation while monitoring the public’s reaction.
Handling a PR crisis is no easy task, but something nearly every industry vet has experienced. Breaking bad news is basically an industry rite-of-passage. It’s how you handle it that’ll set your company apart.