United. Pepsi. Adidas.
Many powerful companies have come under fire recently for poor decisions. Now, while public relations professionals can't prevent all scandals, you can try your best to prevent a PR crisis from getting any worse. Here's how:
Decide on whether to respond -- and when.
It's easy to feel pressure to respond to a potential crisis -- and do it, fast. But, sometimes stalling is a smart move. This can give you some time to consider how the world is responding to an incident involving your client. For example, if an overwhelming majority of engaged Twitter and Facebook users appear to be taking a particular viewpoint -- use that social analysis to help craft a more thoughtful, well-balanced response.
Plan for every outcome.
Sometimes, it may make sense to stay silent on a subject while other times it becomes obvious that a public response is necessary (especially when your phone is ringing off the hook from reporters). Either way, map out every possible outcome -- and consider any short-and-long term consequences to how you'll respond.
Show compassion and clarify company values.
In the court of public opinion, showing compassion and remorse for bad decisions tend to help slowdown the backlash. And while some companies may not want to admit wrongdoing for fear of lawsuits, oftentimes failing to simply say "sorry" can be more damaging to a company's reputation than potential litigation. Either way, deciding on the right approach to a crisis response should be discussed among your PR team and top executives (who often make the final call).
Also, it's important to a company to make clear to their audience if a mistake was not reflective of their company's core values.
Be clear and transparent.
Sometimes, a company walks into a PR crisis by accident. For example, an innocent tweet could just be ill-timed and unfortunately lead to a social media crisis. While it's easy to say "oops!" and press delete, offering some honesty and relatable context may be more beneficial. Maybe that tweet was pre-scheduled and the social media manager failed to connect the dots and catch it in time. Explaining that to your audience, along with an apology, may help prevent more fallout.
Take stock of possible evidence to support your case.
You may need additional evidence to support a different viewpoint.
Remember when a customer complained that a baker gave him a preordered cake with a slur written on it? His story was so shocking it made national headlines. But, his story quickly fizzled out after the grocery store released the in-store footage to prove him wrong. You see, the customer claimed he had yet to open the cake box when he took cell phone video of the slur. Only problem? The store video showed the sticker on the top when he bought it, not on the bottom.The discrepancy proved the customer opened the box after buying the cake and likely adjusted the wording.
Now, if the grocery store did not release that video, it would've been a lot harder to win public support and discredit the customer. Get what I'm saying? So, take stock of any media assets that may support your company's viewpoint prior to publicly addressing a scandal and decide when it may be appropriate to actually use it.
It's easy to apologize for a company's bad decision, but it's a lot harder to hold the company being accountable. If an employee's actions were deemed inappropriate, the company should likely take action.
Plan for more backlash.
Even if your company made an honest mistake and apologized, there are some that will refuse to accept it. This is something you have no control over. So, be prepared that there will be a wave of backlash for a few days -- or even weeks, depending on the severity.
Prevent it from happening again.
Finally, once you get over a PR crisis, be sure the same scenario will never happen again and revise protocols for the company to provide clear context on how a company will respond to a scandal.