A public relations (PR) crisis occurs when your business suffers a negative incident that can in-turn affect your reputation, standing, and cash flow of your business. Whether it's a string of bad reviews or a major scandal involving the CEO, there is always something you can do to mitigate the consequences to your business. Although each incident is going to require a unique approach, here is a general step-by-step approach you can take help you navigate the crisis.
STEP 1 - DESIGNATE A PR TEAM OR SPOKESPERSON. You should already have somebody that you can call to handle the crisis for you. For large businesses who can afford it, a dedicated PR team is the best option. For the smaller businesses, you should have a legal resources and a designated person who will handle the media, social media, and news outlets. Once you've identified this person, that person should be the only one answering questions. More than one spokesperson can cause confusion and more chaos. Every communication between said person and the public should be carefully considered
STEP 2 - CONSIDER LEGAL LIABILITY. You need to ask your leadership or legal team whether you did everything by the book to prevent the issue. For example, if you hired a bad apple and you did not perform the appropriate background checks or if you received a complaint related to the problem and you ignored it, you may be on the hook for negligence. If you think you failed to do something you were required to do you ned to consider it in your PR strategy.
STEP 3 - STRATEGIZE. Your PR team, attorney, and/or spokesperson should meet to identify three preliminary things: (i) what you we really know?; (ii) how do we stop the bleeding?; and (iii) what do we need the public to know?
(i) What do we really know? It's really easy to jump to conjecture and assume things you don't know. The public is going to ask angry questions and lead you to speculate. Don't fall for this and don't rush into answering. If you can't answer with certainty keep this responses in your pocket: "I know you want to know what's happening. So do we. It's our job to work diligently to figure things out. But it is also my job to deliver accurate information, which I will as soon as I have it." Don't simply say, "no comment." Buy some time and work diligently to get all the facts and craft your response only after you feel comfortable.
(ii) How do we stop the bleeding? Is the crisis over or is it ongoing. If the crisis is ongoing you need to take steps to mitigate damage to your business. Educate your staff to direct all questions to your designated spokesperson and to not spread rumors. In shot, compartmentalize the "problem" until the issue or investigation is resolved.
(iii) What does the public need know? When drafting your initial public statement you should know that the public WANTS to know everything, but what do they really NEED to know is the question. To volunteer information that is not necessary to address the issue is not helpful. Generally, the public needs to know that you are aware of the issue, that you are just as concerned as they are, and that you are doing everything reasonably necessary to ensure this doesn't happen again.
STEP 4 - STAY ATOP THE SITUATION. Monitor the situation for changes. If the change is material to keeping the public safe or mitigating costs to shareholders you should divulge it, but if it's not don't rush to the mic. Consider documenting everything you did to protect your business, your staff, and the general public. If you are sued later you can rely on this documentation to reduce liability.
STEP 5 - REVIEW INTERNAL POLICY AND PROCEDURE. When the chaos has settled, review your policies and procedures to make sure you did everything by the book. If the incident in question is one that you have not seen before consult with your leadership or attorney to create policy that will help your business address it in the future.
*This material is intended for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Each case requires unique legal analysis of law and facts. For legal issues that arise, the reader should consult legal counsel.