How to Handle a PR Crisis: A Must Read Guide for Entrepreneurs, SMEs and Celebrities

Most businesses (entrepreneurs, SMEs, celebrities) will face a public relations crisis at one time or another. From a string of bad reviews to a serious executive scandal, a negative incident can have a powerful impact on a company’s reputation. 

No one expects you to be perfect, but they do expect you to be human – and that shows in the way you handle such instances.

How a business responds when things go wrong can mean the difference between a swift resolution and making the problem a whole lot worse. In the corporate world, several companies have distinguished themselves in crisis management and they have set the pace for you to follow.

APPLE

In 2016, a federal judge ordered Apple to assist the FBI in unlocking an encrypted iPhone that was used by Syed Farook, the perpetrator of the 2015 San Bernardino terrorist attack.

Apple’s response was that, while possible, doing so would open the encryption-cracking software to vulnerability and potential hackings, in addition to creating a dangerous precedent for tech companies when dealing with government orders.

Apple turned the fight from being about Apple vs. the government to being about Apple and the millions of consumers concerned about their privacy vs. the FBI.

VIRGIN GALACTIC

In 2014, a Virgin Galactic test flight went horribly wrong, killing one pilot and seriously injuring the other.

Facing a potentially huge PR nightmare, Richard Branson didn’t waste a second before expressing his concern and taking steps to be with his team. He didn’t meet with his executives to figure out how they’d respond to the crisis, he responded to it like a compassionate human being.

Branson went on to write an extended blog post on the event later that day, clarifying the details of what had happened, further cementing his reputation as one of the coolest CEOs ever.

UNITED AIRLINES

In 2017, Dr David Dao was dragged off an overbooked flight to make room for a crew member who needed his seat. The incident was caught on tape and went viral. More recently, a passenger’s dog died after a flight attendant told the owner to put the pet in an overhead bin. United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz initially called the incident involving the passenger an “upsetting event.” At first, the company partially blamed Dr David Dao, describing him as”disruptive and belligerent.” But as outrage over the incident continued, the company softened its reaction. Munoz said what happened was “truly horrific,” and offered an apology to Dao. United’s response to the pet’s death was swift and immediately remorseful. “We assume full responsibility for this tragedy,” the company said. The company did a better job in its response to the pet’s death you’ll agree.

DANA AIRLINES 

A CNN news report in May, 2012 read “No Nigerian airline has ever fully recovered from an air disaster. EAS Airlines, Bellview, SoSoLiso and ADC Air were all Nigerian airlines with decent sized fleets and considerable goodwill just ten years ago. Their names all became obsolete pretty quickly following a spate of crashes between 2002 and 2006.

On Sunday 3rd June, 2012 news broke of another air crash in Lagos, Nigeria. A Dana aircraft carrying 153 people onboard crashed into a residential area. The airline lost its license temporarily and announced in 2013 that it was resuming operation. Today Dana Airlines is one of Nigeria’s biggest domestic airlines.

What did Dana do right? How did it break the jinx and rise from the dead?

They complied with the order withdrawing their license and were immediately ready to commence operations in a couple of months once they met the aviation requirements.

These companies have given us a blueprint for PR crisis management and we have outlined some tips on what not to do when faced with a PR crisis. 

WHAT NOT TO DO WHEN FACED WITH A PR CRISIS

2020 has been a year of scandals in the corporate world and entertainment industry alike. Dbanj’s rape scandal, Jude Okoye vs Cynthia Morgan etcetera etcetera etcetera. 

When creating and executing your company’s strategy, we must warn against the following tactics.

Lashing out

Even if the opposing party has said something completely false about your company, it is never a good idea to respond negatively or blame the complainant for the situation, Don’t react to false rumors about your brand. Don’t blame other. Don’t respond negatively. Put emotions on the back burner.

Offering “no comment.”

Not having answers to potential questions is the worst thing you can do during a crisis. But, sometimes, you truly can’t give a good answer with the information you presently have.

Being unable to answer a question is damning in a PR crisis. It makes you look guilty, unprepared. Often, arrogant. I’m not suggesting you make something up. That’s even worse. Be honest. Admit you don’t have sufficient information to respond. That you’ll issue an update as soon as possible.

Responding too quickly or too slowly

Handling a PR crisis is all about timing. You don’t want to give a premature response before you have all the fact. Having to backtrack or contradict previous statements later could further damage your reputation. Delaying your response time won’t do you any favors either.

Dwelling on the situation

The news cycle is short, and the situation will almost certainly blow over. A period of “bad” press is often just a hiccup on your path to success – you shouldn’t let it completely distract you from running your business. People can forgive and forget your mistake, but they won’t forget how you conducted yourself in the process.

We’d all like to think we respond well under pressure. That we rise to the occasion. That we handle criticism like the professionals we are. That we can respond appropriately when the $#!% hits the fan. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case for brands and the humans who run them. That’s why a crisis management strategy is so crucial. 

Start preparing for crisis communication before you need to. When crisis comes, and it will, you’ll be ready. 

At Wingman Legal, we can help you manage a PR crisis when it arises but most importantly we can help you prevent one from happening by drafting a strategy tailor-made for your industry.

If you have any questions or comments, please send us an email.

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