When a public relations disaster strikes, companies must act swiftly and precisely to douse the flames. There's no cure-all for every PR crisis, but past mistakes show that there are some consistencies in what to avoid.
Whether you're dealing with bungled distribution channels, a spokesperson scandal, or an environmental disaster, the way you respond has a direct—financial and reputations—impact on the future company.
Here are the seven most common mistakes made by companies during a PR crisis. Avoid them at all costs:
1. Distancing yourself from the problem
If your company screwed up, admit it. When a person is called out on an every-day life mistake that they blatantly made, you expect them to accept responsibility, and it's no different for a company. Of course, if the company is certain that they didn't do anything wrong, denial is the right way to go. But remember, one of the most devastating ways to destroy a reputation is to say that you're innocent one day and plead guilty the next.
2. Lacking quick, tangible action to remedy the situation
Consumers want results, not excuses. Waiting too long to respond creates additional unwanted uncertainty, and that can scare people—and make them angry. Do something visible (and not patronizing) to show them that the company is actively working to fix what went wrong, or the public will wonder if you're doing anything at all. A lax approach to solving the problem only leads to dissent.
3. Looking insincere in front of the media
A smug appearance from a pompous executive on CNN during a crisis is the last thing a company needs while mired in a crisis. All it does is help build the perception that the company thinks it's above the mistake. Sincerity goes a long way in earning the customers' trust, especially amid disaster.
4. Writing a boring news release and letting things be
A simple, everyday news release isn't going to do anything. The PR department must use all platforms to connect with the public and give them all the information that they need. It's simply unproductive to pump out a boring release and just hope that everything will get better after that.
5. Ignoring customers' questions
Even if you don't know the answer yet, say something. Lack of engagement can spell doom during a PR crisis because it feeds the perception that the company doesn't care about those affected. But that doesn't mean lie to the customers. If you honestly don't know what's going on, then say so, and tell the public exactly what you're doing to find out.
6. Keeping the CEO out of view
A company's CEO is in many cases its identity. He or she is the big talking head that people turn to in times of the greatest successes and failures. Without a visible, accessible CEO during a crisis, people—both inside and outside the company—have nowhere to turn to.
7. Having vague communications
It's frustrating for consumers when a company speaks in generalities. When there's a problem, address all the specifics, because that's what people want to know. What exactly is the company doing today, and what's the plan for tomorrow? An overarching statement claiming that you're on the case will just spark more animosity and distrust.
Above all, know that if you react responsibly, your company will recover—and possibly even with a vengeance.