June 5, 2020

How To Handle A PR Crisis

You never know when a PR crisis will strike. It might be a misunderstanding, an accident, a product defect, or something more sinister such as fraud or intentional sabotage. Whatever the cause and regardless of the party responsible, it is essential that every company have a crisis management plan in place to handle the crisis swiftly and efficiently whilst incurring as little reputational or financial damage as possible. When you find yourself in deep water and the sharks start circling, preparation will make or break a company.

Many companies believe that this will never happen to them but the likelihood is much higher than many believe with a survey showing 59% of business decision makers having experienced a PR crisis within their current or previous company and 79% of business decision makers believing that they are only 12 months away from a potential crisis. Worryingly, it was found that only 54% of companies surveyed had a formalised crisis plan in place. To assist you in putting a crisis plan together and guide you through any potential PR crises in your future, we have put together some helpful tips below.


An Example of a PR Crisis Handle Effectively

In 2019, Nike found their brand in the center of controversy when Duke basketball player Zion Williamson’s Nike shoe exploded in the middle of a game. The game was broadcast on national television and Nike’s stocks fell substantially. Viewers took to Twitter to voice their concern for the player – as well as criticize Nike.

Nike’s social media team wasted no time jumping on the grenade. They took time to respond to tweets from concerned customers, and their PR team released a statement the next day wishing Willamson well and promising to investigate the matter. They also reached out to Willamson himself and offered him a substantial advertising deal. The goodwill, commitment, and humility in the face of crisis allowed Nike to rise above the situation.


Tips on Creating a PR Crisis Strategy:

1 – Put together a PR crisis team and detailed protocol before a crisis occurs

It is important to put together a team and designated protocol before an actual crisis occurs, as this will save time and provide much needed structure and direction during a chaotic time. When putting together the team, ensure that each is aware of their roles and responsibilities and chain of command within the team and what is expected of them should a crisis occur. A detailed protocol will also be able to detail the steps to take in the event of different crisis scenarios to ensure that all scenarios aren’t treated the same and without context (a crisis stemming from a misunderstanding with a customer would require very different handling than a crisis stemming from fraud or dangerous product defects).

2 – Ensure that the company speaks with one voice

Nothing shows a company’s disorganization or lack of preparation quite like multiple members of the company responding to a crisis with differing messages. With this is mind, it is important that a protocol is shared with more than just your crisis team so that the rest of your team knows not to answer for the company, particularly when the crisis may provoke an emotional response. Reassure the whole team both before and when a crisis occurs that a plan is in place and that the crisis team will handle it.

3 – Refine your message according to the situation’s context

While the gist of the response may be covered within your PR crisis plan, it is important to take the specific context of the crisis into account. As is appropriate, add additional details to inform the public on how or why an incident may have occurred to provide clarity and be as transparent and honest as possible. Apologize as soon as possible and take responsibility for the occurrence. Do not deny the incident happened or try to shift the blame as this will only make the company appear dishonest and unrepentant. Before publishing or releasing any statements, check with your legal representatives when the crisis is tied to legal matters as an admission of guilt may leave you open for legal action.

4 – Be proactive and answer swiftly

Regardless of the size of the company, a crisis will likely get worse without the company addressing the issue. Staying silent and waiting for it to blow over will only give the impression that the company is indifferent to the effects of the crisis.

5 – When responding on social media stay calm, be professional and stick to the agreed message

It can be difficult to remain calm when many people storm a company’s social platforms and fill them with highly emotional and often impolite messages during a crisis. However, it is of paramount importance that any message sent in response is polite, calm, apologetic and accurately reflects the stance that has been held since the start of the crisis. Check in with your crisis team often to see if any members are taking strain and ask after their well-being. It is not easy or pleasant to be the person responsible for reading and taking abuse from people. If need be, swap out your team members to give them a break and allow them to remain impartial when responding.

6 – Be human

When responding to any messages during a crisis, whether via email or on social media platforms, remember to show a human element. The last thing that is going to appease upset and angry customers or members of the public are messages that seem to have been generated by a robot. Instead of saying things like “We are handling the situation,” show genuine remorse and apologise to those that have been affected whilst assuring them that the company is trying to rectify the mistake, for example: “we are deeply sorry for the way this has affected our customers and members of the public and we assure you that we are doing our best to rectify the situation.”

7 – Constantly monitor the situation

It is extremely important to keep track of what is being said about the brand anywhere on the internet to address it immediately. During a crisis it is always highly recommended to use software to find mentions of your brand online so you can respond and manage the situation accordingly.


In addition to these guidelines, sometimes the best thing to do in a crisis is to call in the professionals. By harnessing the latest technology in sentiment reading and brand tracking, the Black Snow Group timeously and effectively tracks and responds to consumer feedback and audience complaints so that your company is one step ahead of any crisis. If you find yourself in a PR crisis, Black Snow can assist you to navigate the stormy waters, avoid the sharks and minimize damage to your brand.

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