"Puppy Dies After United Flight." Is there a businessperson out there who would want that headline featuring their company? Not to mention the uncountable amount of times the image of that adorable French bulldog has been blasted over TV and Internet.
The other day a woman called me wanting some help unwinding herself from a personal brand debacle. Something in her past was surfacing on a Google search of her name, and it was costing her employment.
As she described the situation, and her role in it, I found myself in the unenviable position of having to point out how her actions -- were making an already poor situation worse.
Be it the world of politics, sports or business, when PR disasters strike, the way they're handled has as much impact on the outcome as the incident itself.
So just in case you ever find yourself in an image-management mess, here's how to make your way back from a PR disaster without a misstep.
Focus on facts.
There's nothing more damaging (or embarrassing) than standing in front of a group of reporters post PR disaster and having them tell you a fact you should have known.
To get a handle on the scope of the situation, you need to go beyond the spin to understanding all the facts. This will likely mean speaking to a wide variety of people inside and outside your organization to get the full picture.
Respond right away.
Immediately release a statement, even if it is only to say that you're investigating and will make sure that situation is handled in an appropriate manner. When crisis response is slow, it can turn a PR crisis into a PR disaster. Case in point: United's CEO was severely criticized late last year for not speaking out immediately when a passenger was dragged off a plane.
Pick an appropriate face to go with your message.
It's surprising to me how often in a crisis, a company picks someone to interface with the media who is clearly uncomfortable with the role.
A PR disaster requires a person who can face the press and convey confidence, care, and candor. In many cases it is this person's ability to articulate the message in a fitting way that can make the difference between containment and explosion.
Never say "No comment."
In the event that you do get caught unawares by a reporter, keep your cool and try and avoid saying "No comment."
Instead, if a member of the press raises a sensitive issue you don't know the answer to, simply say, "That's a good point," and, "I don't have that information at this time, but I will investigate further and get back to you as quickly as I can."
The trick is to mean it and follow up by actually getting back to them once you have the information you need.
Stay ahead of the social media storm.
The minute the puppy story hit, United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz should have been tweeting at the speed of Donald Trump.
Too often, we wait until we have a strategy in place for handling the disaster before starting to respond on social media. But social media operates at lightning speed, so getting ahead of the story by sending out short statements of apology and actions to be taken may keep you from getting swept up in the social media storm.
Webster defines a crisis as "the decisive moment" or "the turning point." For both businesses and the individuals who run them, the way they handle a PR crisis can make the difference between a story that comes and goes and one that lingers in the public's minds for months.