Only you can prevent a PR Crisis

Are you prepared for avoiding a PR crisis?

In PR there are hundreds of articles that offer tips to manage a PR crisis – AKA putting out the fire – but very few that offer tips on how to avoid the crisis altogether. As a matter of fact, we recently wrote one of these articles covering the 10 Steps to Managing a PR Crisis.

8 Tips For Avoiding A PR Crisis

1. Make the ethical choice: If you only pay attention to one tip on this list, let it be this one. So often I read a story about a company or person that is in the midst of a PR crisis that could have been avoided all together if the right decision were made from the beginning. The spectrum of categories these decisions may fall into is broad, such as giving the proper response to a customer service inquiry,  adding the right features to a product launch, or making a tough call on a product recall simply because it’s the right thing to do. The key is to do the right thing. Doing the right thing will always lead to better results and many fewer PR crises. Ethical businesses and people have fewer PR crises; it’s a simple fact.

2. Be transparent: Businesses need to be as transparent as possible these days. After all we’re PR pros, not the CIA; we can be upfront about most things. By remaining transparent, we leave less to the imagination and so there’s less for people to wonder about. If you build transparency into your brand and messaging, your customers will learn to expect it, and in the end you’ll gain respect that leads to trust. Trusted brands have fewer crises.

3. Encourage fantastic customer service: How many times have you seen a story about a consumer that has been wronged by an evil retail company? If you are anything like me, many times. Many of these situations can be avoided by simply providing great customer service and solving a problem before it has a chance to escalate. In customer service the old adage “the customer is always right” is a simple philosophy that can help head off a crisis.

4. Invest in monitoring tools: Actively monitoring social media and online media with a great monitoring tool will help you see problems as they brew, before they become big problems. Did you know that Meltwater offers such monitoring tools?

5. Define Social Media Guidelines: In today’s online world it is imperative that some social media guidelines are in place to ensure that employees are not sharing or communicating inappropriate information publicly. Like you, I’ve seen countless companies make public apologies for the content their employees share on Facebook, Twitter, etc. avoiding a PR crisis by preparing a social media policy.

6. Avoid knee-jerk reactions: This tip is quite simple: always think before you react. By fully thinking through how you’ll react to a situation, be they big or small, corporate or personal, you will always do better by avoiding a knee jerk reaction. I’ve seen many companies, and celebrities for that matter, cause problems for themselves by quickly shooting off a tweet that simply was not thought through. Think before you act and you’ll avoid many PR crisis pitfalls..

7. Create consistent messaging for customer facing employees: Make sure all outward facing employees have access to accurate messaging that is consistent with you brand. Generally, providing basic messaging will cover your bases so long as employees know how to escalate if conversations veer off script.  The goal is to make sure everyone knows what can be said and that they understand that everything else should be escalated (within reason).

8. Be responsive: This tip is for you, PR pro. Before a story is run that will expose your PR crisis, you’ll often receive a call or email from a diligent reporter. Do not hide! Get back to that reporter ASAP. Be very transparent and do everything you can to get your story, statement and action plan into their hands. Even if you are not sure what your actions will be, don’t let the message sit. Call back and tell them “we are actively looking into this situation and will be able to provide more information within the hour.” Most reporters will respect that you are working hard to get the answer they need. If you follow rules 1, 2, 3 and 4 in your conversation with the reporter there’s a good chance you’ll come out OK.

Practice all of these things and you’ll likely avoid a crisis or two – it’s worth avoiding a crisis whenever possible.

Summary: 3 tactics for preparing for a PR crisis:

Step 1: Add Contingency Planning to Job Goals
Amidst your daily routine, you might not be able to design a protocol for every potential crisis right away. Pace yourself. Map out two or three crisis protocols per quarter. And make sure that accomplishing this goal is part of your performance review.

Step 2: Search for Early Warning Signs
A powerful media intelligence tool doesn’t just monitor your brand mentions. You can use it to set up searches on any number of topics and keep on top of them in all your channels.

Start by making a list of the kinds of messages you’ve already put out that have met resistance. At any point, this same resistance might come back, get amplified, and take on a life of its own. You’ll also want to talk with sales reps, customer support, and legal counsel on issues that they’ve encountered. Once you’ve made a list of crisis triggers, create news, and social searches for them.

To help you get started, here are some examples:

Executives: Journalists, analysts, and sometimes even customers pay attention to what high-ranking executives say and do. And so should you. Keep on top of their Twitter and Facebook feeds, what videos and blogs they post, and how everything they are putting out into the world is received and amplified.

Competitors: Pay as much attention to competitor brand mentions as you do your own. Their crisis could easily become yours. And if a competitor decides to come after you, you’ll want to know about it first and respond before others have a chance to amplify their message.

Industry news: Sometimes a PR crisis will hit you by association. By keeping track of how your industry is perceived and any events that might impact it (such as natural disasters or newly introduced legislation) you are prepared to address these issues as an industry leader.

Events: Keep track of trending topics related to the event to help prevent speakers and reps from getting caught with their guards down.

Controversy: A media intelligence tool enables you to keep track of any number of business and political keywords. You’ll know when hot-button topics are trending and get ready to explain your position on them before you are equated with the fallout they’ve generated.

Complaints: Make a list of complaints and keep an eye out for them in your search results. Once an influencer amplifies customer concerns, they can be cemented as “expert opinion,” and your credibility can suffer longstanding damage.

Step 3: Finalise Key Messages and Update Corporate Talking Points
Once the worst is over—but before you reach for a beer and put it all behind you—you’ll want to craft a final word. Explain what your company learned from the crisis and how you’ve adapted processes, policies, or products accordingly. Remember, people will want to know you’ve taken action, not just paid lip service. You can then update any relevant company-wide talking points for avoiding a PR crisis