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Batten Down The Hatches: 5 Tips To Survive A PR Storm

Tiffany Loh
Smarter Writer

Tiffany Loh is the Smarter Business™ & News and Digital Editor, with varied writing experience always looking for a unique story

Tiffany Loh
Smarter Writer

Tiffany Loh is the Smarter Business™ & News and Digital Editor, with varied writing experience always looking for a unique story

Bad press does not discriminate among the size of a business – from a negative comment on Facebook to full-blown, damning headlines bad PR can happen to anyone. Here are some practical tips from MYOB Corporate Affairs Manager Kristy Sheppard on how to bounce back from a PR nightmare.

You may have heard about Fonterra’s tainted milk products and most certainly about BP’s Gulf oil spill. More than just affecting a business’ bottom line, these issues can have far-reaching impacts on the reputation of an organisation and the trust customers have in performance and products.

Although the headlines and level of public interest may not be as wide-spread or as high, any business of any size can face a crisis that could damage your brand. How your business reacts to an issue is so critical – your reaction can have more of an impact than the actual event itself, and this can be positive or negative.

Man in rowboat on water from above
Publish a statement on your website to update your customers within the first few hours - preferably the first hour - identify the problem and advise them of what you can confirm so far about the situation.

- Kristy Sheppard, MYOB

Straight from the communications office of a successful, large organisation here are tips to help manage your reputation in crisis:
 

1. Understand the problem

The first step in crisis management is to thoroughly assess the problem. Ask yourself questions such as:

  • What is the extent of the damage, both internally and for customers? 
  • What caused it? 
  • And how is your business involved?

While the answers may be initially unclear or evolving, trying to find some certainty, or at least being able to identify the unanswered questions and how you are seeking to resolve them, will shape your response to the crisis.

2. Act quickly

The speed of your response, and how fast your customers believe you have reacted, is vital to getting on top of a crisis. Formulating a plan and acting decisively – even if it is just to begin the process of assessing how and why the problem occurred – is an important first step in keeping/winning back your customers’ trust.

3. Don’t hide

A very human instinct in a crisis is to go to ground and say as little as possible, for fear of drawing more attention to a problem or making it worse. While containment is an important consideration, once a crisis has broken it’s the businesses that have made the effort to keep their customers, staff and other stakeholders informed at every step that are better perceived by the public. 

Public outcry was recently experienced by a well-known car company when it announced it would fix up to 4,000 cars after receiving numerous complaints about a wide range of mechanical defects. The company’s failure to acknowledge the breadth of their mistake and issue a safety recall resulted in public backlash.

4. Be human

In a crisis, it can be easy to lose perspective. Yes, the income of the business, the value of your brand or the interests of your shareholders is important. 

However, if a problem has occurred that has hurt someone, caused people to be worried about their health or safety, or threatens to damage the environment – that’s a big deal. So let your better human instincts come to the fore, and recognise that some personal concerns have priority over the commercial ones.

In 2009, Air New Zealand’s chief executive made a public apology  for the treatment of the families of 257 people killed on board when it collided with Mount Erebus. The apology, given at the 30th anniversary commemoration of the incident, made headlines all over the world. Since then, the Air New Zealand brand has grown from strength to strength. 

Going public can also help you grow as a business. You can use your interactions to measure, evaluate and use the crisis as a learning curve to be better prepared moving forward.

5. Fix the problem

Customers are remarkably forgiving. But no matter how sorry you are or how much effort you’ve gone through to manage an issue, if problems keep happening you’re going to do irreparable damage to your brand. 

So as soon as a crisis occurs, focus on managing it and working out how to make sure it won’t happen again. 

In 2009, a leading chocolate company introduced a new product into the market, replacing cocoa butter with palm oil to make its chocolate smoother. Loyal customers weren’t convinced by the cheaper ingredient – there was even a Facebook page with 3500+ members dedicated to the cause. In response, the Managing Director of company apologised and reverted to the original recipe. 

Three Quick Reactions
  1. Publish a statement on your website to update your customers within the first few hours - preferably the first hour - of identifying the problem, advising them of what you can confirm so far about the situation.
  2. If you have staff, share this statement with your whole internal team so that everyone is across the situation and is delivering a unified response.
  3. If your customers contact you on social media, it’s important to reply with an update on the issue in a timely manner

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