Over the years, we’ve seen many public relations disasters, both in Hollywood and in our own backyard. Some were handled quickly and with compassion, while others not so much. We have even seen major corporations and CEOs suffer the fate of PR mismanagement. Some are still trying their best to regain consumer confidence.
You may be wondering why all of this matters. Well, it’s because consumers say authenticity is important when choosing the brands they support. This means that any missteps by their PR departments can derail their fiscal goals. We’ve got some great examples that any business, big or small, can learn from.
The Need to Be Honest
In 2016, Wells Fargo had a crisis of major proportions. When the public learned about employees at the bank creating over 2 million fake accounts, customers and shareholders felt betrayed. What made this crisis worse was the PR nightmare that followed. Executives tried to cover up the problem. Then, they couldn’t get their story straight. It was obvious that they were lying to our faces.
Had the company been open and more transparent about their problems, they could have stopped the bleeding immediately and worked quickly to gain consumers’ trust. When a company appears to be covering something up, or being dishonest, that’s when the media really takes an interest and starts digging into the story—often making more trouble than usual. Honesty and authenticity are the best policies in public relations.
The Need to Be Authentic
In April of 2018, Southwest Airlines suffered an enormous setback to their reputation when an engine blew up mid-flight, killing one person onboard. Luckily, the airplane landed safely and the entire fleet was grounded.
At the time of the accident, the Southwest crisis communications team went into action, communicating brief statements on social media and online networks. When they had the complete story to share, they provided the media and the general public with a written statement and a heartfelt video statement by their CEO. Both have a conciliatory tone and avoid the boilerplate tones we so often hear in media coverage. Both are authentic and reassure future passengers that they care about getting them safely to their destinations. They handled the tragedy quickly and with authenticity, which reflected well for them in the public eye.
The Same Goes for Smaller Business
Reputation management is much the same for small and midsized businesses. There will always be threats to reputation from within as well as outside the company.
One of the best ways to prevent a PR nightmare is to be proactive. This means showing all of the good things that happen in your organization on a regular basis (not just as a reaction to a crisis). Show how your employees engage with clients and the community, because these can help drown out that one, unexpected bad thing that comes along to damage your hard earned reputation.
When a crisis does occur, take a hint from Southwest Airlines’ CEO. Respond as soon as possible after you are completely informed about the situation, respond in a sincere manner on an appropriate platform (sometimes video makes sense, sometimes written), and promise that you are doing your best to rectify the issue and prevent future issues (because you are and you should be).
Crisis Communication Planning
Crisis communication planning is an exercise that can help you in more ways than just public relations. When you undertake the process of crisis communication planning, you will start to create a structure and plan for how the company and its employees work through a crisis at all levels. The process requires critically thinking about the many different types of crises that could arise, and when you do so, you will realize that there needs to be a complete plan of action for everything from internal and external communication to security issues, both physical and digital; as well as evacuation and safety measures.
The COVID-19 pandemic showed us how unprepared we are for certain crises. Many companies did not have contingency plans for a pandemic – now, it’s commonplace to have these. Those companies that did have crisis communication plans were in a better place to manage pandemic planning, but most were unprepared for the level of stress and uncertainty that the pandemic placed on businesses and employees. When creating a crisis communication plan, it’s important to brainstorm and imagine all of the potential crises, but also the potential reactions and needs of your company’s employees, leadership, and clients.
The Pinstripe PR team can answer any questions you may have about PR crisis preparedness, so reach out if you are interested in planning ahead.