In the social media age we live in, it doesn't take much to end up in the middle of a public relations nightmare. After years of hard work, you could find yourself spending time and resources defending a comment that was taken out of context or an embarrassing event that happened 20 years ago. Once word of your supposed misdeed gets posted on social media, it could be world news in less than 24 hours. Since no person or organization is perfect, you should assume that you will face a public relations crisis at some point. However, you can lessen the damage if you come up with a proactive approach rather than a reactive one.
It is important to know what is being said about your business outside of company walls. If you sense a negative backlash, you have time to course correct before you are faced with unwanted negative publicity. One way you can keep tabs on your company's reputation is to frequent online discussion boards and websites where customers can leave feedback. If someone outside of your company posts a negative review, try to reach out to that person without becoming defensive. While you can't counteract every negative thing you hear or read about your business, you do have the opportunity to offset a lot of the bad publicity before it happens. This shows people that you care about their experience and want to make things right.
When you take the time to get to know members of the local media, it will be less awkward for you to deal with them when a public relations crisis comes your way. Another benefit of making yourself available to the media is that it helps to build public awareness of your company. You can be useful to the media by pitching ideas for articles, introducing them to people to interview and saying yes to all interview requests yourself. When the inevitable public relations crisis comes your way, the reporter may offer you more time to formulate a response if you have established a good working relationship. Even so, you must never pressure or bribe a reporter not to run a story. Besides getting the reporter in trouble with the boss, this strategy is certain to cause an even greater public relations problem.
There are many variables that go into the creation of a public relations crisis, which is why planning how to respond to one can be especially challenging. However, you can increase your chances of being prepared for an onslaught of negative publicity by coming up with as many scenarios as possible ahead of time. If you know that a member of the media is about to release some negative news, contact that person immediately to provide your response. It is easier to do this when you have formulated possible responses in advance. You can also beat the media to the punch by releasing the news yourself. A carefully worded press release that comes out before the media news can deflate the urgency of the situation.
The time to prepare your resources for a public relations crisis is well in advance of when it happens. For example, make sure that you have an accessible list of who to call and the templates your company will use to distribute information to the media. When you are feeling stressed and operating in crisis mode, it can be easy to overlook obvious information and only make the situation worse.
Because each public relations crisis is so different, it's impossible for you to plan exactly how you want to handle it ahead of time. The best you can do is to create a generalized plan, put it in writing and distribute it to all of your key employees. It should include the following information:
Once you have a written plan of action in place, have it reviewed by a public relations specialist. Decide which of his or her suggestions you want to implement and re-write the public relations crisis action plan if necessary. While someone who makes a career out of public relations can provide valuable insight, ultimately you should be the one to draft the response plan for your own company. There is simply no way for an outsider to understand the unique issues and culture of your business without working there.
As the owner of your business, you are within your rights to forbid every member of your staff from speaking to the media. You just need to make it clear to them that they should make no comment to the media and defer to you. Another option is to choose a few key employees in high-level management positions who you trust to represent the company well. Let them know what they should say and how you want them to say it. Lastly, you can always hire a public relations consultant and keep him or her on staff. When a crisis comes along, it is his or her job to respond to it.
If you decide to talk to the media, you must learn how to do so professionally without losing your temper. It is important that you don't give the media or the public any additional ammunition to use against you. A harsh or evasive response can do just that. Marketing and public relations firms usually offer training to business owners on how to work with the media. If you are new to the business world or have never had formal training, it's a good idea to invest in it.