Practical steps for handling PR during a crisis

One of the biggest fears a business will have is of a crisis and the negative publicity it could bring. These can take many forms, such as product recalls, high-profile court cases, site closures, redundancies, or even workplace accidents. If not handled correctly a crisis can spin out of control and send out the wrong message to stakeholders including employees, customers, investors and suppliers, which can damage brand image and potentially impact on sales and market share.

Key to preventing any crisis escalating is taking control of the message sent early on. Speaking to public relations (PR) experts as soon as a difficult situation occurs can help a business achieve this and develop an appropriate crisis communications strategy and messaging to counter possible reputational harm.

‘One Voice’ policy

The first thing PR professionals will normally do is implement a ‘One Voice’ policy. This means that for the duration of the crisis they alone will handle and monitor media enquiries and social media channels. This will ensure that:

  • Journalists do not receive conflicting details
  • All messaging is uniform and clear
  • No sensitive information is revealed.

The agreed ‘One Voice’ policy should be communicated to employees straightaway so that nothing is accidentally leaked to people outside the organisation or posted on personal social media accounts. Being open with employees about the situation and explaining the reasons for implementing the policy – to protect them as well as the company – can encourage staff to get on board. It can also help to repair their relationship with the business’s management which may have been harmed by the crisis.

Conveying the key message

Once the flow of information from within the organisation is firmly under the control of the PR professionals, it is important to decide on the key messages that must be conveyed in any communications with the media. These key messages must, above all, get across the point that:

  • The business is co-operating with the relevant authorities
  • That it is delivering goods and services to customers as normal
  • That stakeholders’ investments are safe.

Reiterating these three key points as often as possible in communications, internally and externally, will help to soothe any fears stakeholders might have about the business. The PR experts can help here by ensuring that messaging fits with the business’s broader brand identity.

Handling the media and journalists

When handling media enquiries the business should be open, honest and not evasive under questioning. This will prevent any potential hostility from journalists and help to reduce the possibility of critical coverage. Communication shouldn’t simply be in response to enquiries, it should be proactive as well to ensure it remains in control of its image. Again, the business’s PR professionals can help by handling contact with journalists, co-ordinating the delivery of key messaging, and identifying appropriate channels to target with key messaging.

Good news stories

While all this is going on – especially in the case of a large-scale, long-lead issue – the business and its PR experts should also be thinking about possible ‘good news’ stories to counter negative coverage, and further assuage stakeholders’ fears. Done sensitively and appropriately, press releases announcing new client wins, appointments, or product launches can reassure the public that the business is going from strength to strength, putting whatever else might be happening into context. Ongoing thought leadership articles in the relevant media can also be used to deliver and reinforce broader brand messaging to target audiences, laying the foundations for the business‘s rehabilitation once the crisis has ended.

In a world with multiple media channels, both digital and traditional, getting a grip on the message being sent to the media can be challenging, but it is vital if the business’s crisis communications strategy is to succeed. Consulting with PR experts as quickly as possible can help the business develop the appropriate key messages and devise the right strategy to control its image even in the midst of a crisis, minimising damage to its brand.

If you have any questions or would like further information, please contact Michael Wood at Tangerine PR.

This information is intended as a general discussion surrounding the topics covered and is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. DWF is not responsible for any activity undertaken based on this information.