9 Steps to Prepare for a PR Crisis

Aug 8 • Front Page, Social Media • 2798 Views

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Do you remember, back in the 1980s, when Beech-nut was fined millions for marketing their juice as ‘100% apple juice’ despite containing no apple nutrients?


Or when McDonald’s was sued for using beef flavoring in its ‘vegetarian’ fries to the tune of $10 million? Or when Perrier Water had to withdraw 160 million bottles worldwide because it contained traces of carcinogenic benzene? We daren’t even speculate what the full consequences of the 2013 horsemeat scandal were.


With the rising health trend, numerous food and beverage companies have faced criticism for their products’ ingredients, production methods and nutritional values. However, it isn’t only food and beverage companies that are at risk. Whatever industry you operate in, it only takes one mistake to cause irreversible damage to your company’s reputation.


On average, it takes 3 to 4 years for brands to completely recover from a reputational failure. Some never do.


Or as Warren Buffet once said:

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”


So let’s take a look at some of the ways to avoid disasters and prevent them from escalating.


1. Plan ahead

Firstly, you should try to anticipate what kind of crises can happen to you and if any of these complaints can circulate online. Draw up a pre-planned set of guidelines for how to deal with them and what the appropriate response could be.


Set up alerts to email you when there are unusual high volumes of conversation about your brand, competitors or industry, meaning you can stay on top of possible problems wherever you are.


Brandwatch 1


Data taken from Brandwatch’s latest Food & Beverage report shows a strong upshot for Stevia chatter in June. This is largely the result of Coca-Cola announcing plans to introduce Stevia-sweetened coke. A closer look at the conversation reveals that consumers discussing sweeteners are strongly in favor of Stevia compared to Aspartame.


Brandwatch 2


Businesses that set up alerts to stay abreast of the social landscape can gauge the gravity of a threat by understanding the volume, the tone of voice and the underlying concerns behind it.


2. Monitor & Listen

In the past, companies such as United Airlines and Gap have been accused of ignoring customer complaints – simply because they were not ready to manage customer concerns on their social media channels.


In Ryanair’s case, for instance, a simple response to the disgruntled customer on Facebook could’ve prevented the complaint from blowing up online.




However, you can’t deal with a crisis you weren’t able to find, so you will need some sort of social listening tool in your company. This way you can scan what your stakeholders are saying about your brand anywhere in the world. When you pick up online chatter around a specific issue in real time, you have a huge opportunity to address the issue before it escalates.


3. Have a team in place

A social media monitoring tool is only as good as the people using it. Therefore, you must have a listening protocol in your company:

  • Who is monitoring your social media channels and beyond?
  • For what are you listening, and when?
  • What’s the timeframe within you should respond?
  • Who’s spreading the problem? Does it have the potential to spread?


It’s impossible to predict every incident, but general guidelines around how responses will be dealt with, by whom (PR, HR, marketing, legal team members) and a plan for internal communication will be invaluable should a crisis occur.


4. Acknowledge

Your first response should always acknowledge that a mistake has happened, even if you don’t have an explanation or a solution straight away. Tell the truth plainly and apologize. People tend to empathize with mistakes and are willing to forgive mistakes after seeing contrition.


In fact, data taken from RightNow’s Retail Consumer Report, shows that of those customers who received a response to their negative review, 33% turned around and replied positively, and 34% deleted their original negative review.




Because their apologetic response explained exactly what they were doing to fix it, they now have even more loyal clients.




5. Be Sorry

We all make mistakes. Your customers don’t expect you to be perfect, so just be honest and transparent. Apologize and do everything in your power to correct it. If you say you’re sorry and you mean it, you’ll be forgiven.


When social media scheduling tool Buffer became aware that they were being hacked, they were quick to inform their customers of the problem before most of them were even aware of the attack.


After admitting fault, offer a resolution or define a plan for doing so. Keep the general public, the media and your communities up to date with any new information and let them know you are looking into it. Also keep your staff informed of any updates and advise them what to do in case they are contacted by the public or the press.


There may be times when you disagree with reviews or complaints. It may sound obvious, but ignoring the issue, attacking or being rude online is absolutely unacceptable.


After being dumped by Gordon Ramsey in “Kitchen Nightmares,” the owners of Amy’s Bakery took to their Facebook page to defend themselves against nasty comments from customers.


Here are just a few of the highlights of the ensuing rant demonstrating exactly how it should not be done:


amys 1


amys 2


6. Respond Thoughtfully

Always first respond where the action is. If a problem occurs on a particular blog or a social media site, respond there. Be sure to include who you are and who you represent when responding. Then circle around and respond in other places that have picked up on the crisis, even if you’re not usually participating there.


Answering every person individually may seem an impossible task, but at least demonstrate that you are listening and answer the most common questions.


7. Take it Offline

Sometimes the best course of action is to take a conversation offline. A rule of thumb is that it’s best not to respond more than 3 times to the same person online. After a third reply, the conversation starts to look like an argument, not a Q&A. If a fourth reply is needed, ask them to send a private message or provide them with a phone number.


8. Speed

It goes without saying, but in today’s digital age, speed really matters. Don’t wait 45 days to craft a tweet, because the longer you leave it before acknowledging the situation, the more misinformation and damage might be done. Can you get your spokesperson to respond within 2 hours at any point during the day? You should, if not sooner.


9. Gather all info

If possible, gather all information about the crisis in one place. Set up a dedicated FAQ page on your website to prevent misinterpretation of your responses online (e.g., Starbucks has a page for that), include contact details and continue to feed updates through your social channels. It may save you a lot of time to respond to questions with a link instead of a comprehensive answer.


After the crisis has calmed down, evaluate and deconstruct the crisis. Document your steps, et voilà! You have created a crisis management playbook that you hopefully will never need. Better to be safe than sorry, after all.


Join us for #SplashChat on August 19 as we discuss crisis management strategies with @Splashmedialp. Visit Splash Media to learn how to join the conversation! We look forward to hearing your opinion and questions.



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