Organizations and individuals are constantly faced with the challenge of handling negative publicity. Stories abound of how an organization is mistreating its employees, presenting faulty products to the market and also failing to deliver on its promises. Sometimes it is the company’s technical or environmental fault, whereas some wars are merely allegations staged by bloggers who come up with content that is meant to gain attention, make news and most of the time, paint a negative image of the brand. Whether such accusations are justified or not, a brand that wishes to stay afloat must anticipate such crises and put in place mechanisms to protect and reaffirm its credibility. This is where Public Relations comes in. From hiring an external PR consultant to engaging the internal PR department of the firm, the roles of PR in crises management can never be overstated.
PR serves 3 purposes that can be summarized as research, response and recovery as explained below;
This is an environmental scan to find out exactly what stir the news has caused, who are talking about it and the reaction of the company’s target market. This can be in form of use of social media experts who establish the cause and the nature of the crises. Simply put, it is getting the content of the negative feedback and to whom it is targeted. Seeking first to understand the situation is key. Hiring a PR consultant may be the first step.
This is the most important step. Immediately news goes out, a company’s first reaction leaves lasting effects. In PR, knowing how to respond and stage particular information to the public is where the rubber meets the road.
In 1993, rumours of the PepsiCo can tampering took toil. It was alleged that a syringe was found in a can of diet Pepsi and next followed 50 reports on the same. PepsiCo handled these crises most effectively. First, since it was a hoax, it strongly defended itself with not just vague statements but had its CEO go to news stations with visual evidence of video of a woman putting the syringe in the can when the sales agent of Pepsi wasn’t watching. This restored the lost respect of Pepsi.
In the case where the allegations are true, apologize immediately and sincerely. Do not make the mistake of issuing an impersonal apology, also referred to as cold call. United Airline made this blunder when they were accused of forcefully removing a client from an overbooked plane, then waited until later to apologize. Its brand perception dropped to a 10-year low. If the crisis is too sensitive, make a phone call or walk up to people and talk face-to-face. Wrapping up, responding involves ‘telling it, telling it fast, telling them what it is you are doing about it, tell them when it is all over, get back to business’.
This entails doing a follow up on the effectiveness of the methods applied above at restoring the lost respect and perception of the brand. Recovery can be accelerated by proactive storytelling especially on stories build around the past good track record of the company. Toyota is the best example here following its recall fiasco in 2010. It made cars whose brakes were faulty causing a thousand deaths. It had to recall 8.8 million cars. However, Toyota was able to successfully recover from this blow through proactively telling the story of its successful track record. Its executives become more visible in speaking to the media and actively participating in investigations. This restored the Toyota brand perception that the company still has its priorities on quality right.
Thus it is coherent how PR sits at the heart of crises management for any brand. Effective crises management by a PR practitioner, from the above can be summarized as mainly acknowledging a mistake, seeking a solution and finally apologizing for it. From the cases of Toyota and JetBlue Company it is clear that when used effectively, PR can restore a brand’s lost glory.