Crisis Communications Archives - TAB Corporate

Crisis Communications Tips for Small Business Owners

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As much as we’d like to believe it, a public relations crisis doesn’t always happen to some other business. In this era of instantaneous digital technology, even a small customer complaint can metastasize overnight into a full-blown crisis. But while it’s inaccurate to say that such a crisis is inevitable, nonetheless small business owners who plan ahead for the unforeseen are generally better equipped to weather the storm than those who have no crisis communications plan in place.

Here are tips to help you formulate a plan of action when a crisis strikes, as well as general principals to guide your conduct during a difficult time:

1. Engage with media and the public, rather than try to outsmart them. Let’s assume that the nature of the crisis—be it a product recall, surprise civil liability lawsuit against your business, alleged employee criminal behavior, etc.—meets the criteria for a necessary public response. In such cases, expect that the demand for information will likely include what happened, why it happened, what solutions are being considered and how your customers will be reimbursed for their troubles.

PR specialists like Sharon Cain of Quest PR sum up a business leader’s required actions this way:

  • Acknowledge the problem or crisis—say “we know what is happening and we are doing something about it.”
  • Stick to the facts and don’t speculate.
  • Be honest and transparent and don’t try to cover or obscure the issue.

In other words, tell the truth.

2. Select a single spokesperson to represent your business. In many cases, it falls to the owner or CEO to stand up for a company under media siege. Sometimes this responsibility is assigned to a media or PR representative. Whatever the situation, it’s imperative to select one individual to represent your business and to allow no one else to act as an “additional” spokesperson. Many PR mishaps only get more complicated when two or more people step forward to defend the organization.

3. Remain calm in the eye of the storm. It’s asking a lot of an individual, but the most effective public persona to strike in the midst of a crisis is staying calm. If you’re the spokesperson, you will be “bombarded by doubts, questions, negativity, and grievances as you struggle to lead your company and your team out of the morass,” notes PR expert Murray Newlands. Keep a steady hand on the tiller and “don’t succumb to frustrations, panic, or anger, as your staff is going to be looking up to you to discover a solution.”

4. Think before speaking out on social media. Platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter can be enormously helpful in getting your message out. But they can also be filled with perilous forums in which you and your business can get mired in seemingly endless negative chatter.

When a crisis strikes, you obviously can’t avoid referring to it on your social media networks. At the same time, remember to never get into back-and-forth exchanges with trolls or anyone else who seeks to bring further damage to your company’s reputation.

The best advice is to take a deep breath before composing and sending a message.

“Publish a neutral statement showing you’re aware of the situation and that you’re investigating the matter,” writes social media strategist Lesya Liu. “Do not go into details of what happened just yet, before you get the full picture, and don’t make any comments acknowledging or rejecting any fault.”

Of course, prior to holding a press conference or issuing a statement, you should consult with your company attorney. They might wish to err on the side of extreme caution, so the most effective approach may be to weigh their legal advice against the potential damage to your brand if you choose to say or do nothing at all.

Remember, your ultimate priority during any crisis is to preserve the trust of your customers.

Want more advice on crisis management or general advice from other business owners like you? Find out if a TAB Board is right for you!

 

7 Top Tips for Online Crisis Communications

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by Sharon Cain, Quest PR

One of our favorite sayings at Quest PR is that good PR is “being in at the take-off and not just at the crash landing”.

In other words, don’t bring in a PR expert only when you have a crisis; ensure that good communications runs throughout your business so you are prepared for any incident that might have an impact on your reputation.

Digital media, including 24 hours news and social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, have had a dramatic effect on corporate reputations. These channels enable members of the public to become “citizen journalists” or to express anger and concern in an unprecedented way. An online crisis or a reputational management issue for a brand can spread like wildfire as disgruntled customers take to a plethora of digital channels to express their anger.

Anyone doubting the power and speed of social media to break and spread bad news has only to look at the recent incident involving the sale of “mental health patient” fancy dress costumes by supermarket chains Asda and Tesco. The sale of the offending Halloween outfit on the Asda Direct site provoked outrage on Twitter, with celebrity tweeters – including former spin doctor Alastair Campbell and ex footballer Stan Collymore, both of whom have suffered from depression – expressing their disgust. Mental health campaigners, including charity Rethink Mental Illness, demanded on the social media site that Asda “please explain” why it was listing the product and asked for it be withdrawn.

Because Asda monitors its social media platforms it was able to respond within hours – taking to Twitter to issue statements. The costume was quickly withdrawn from sale; Asda apologised and promised it would make a “sizeable” donation (£25,000) to mental health charity Mind to apologize.

Following the controversy, Tesco also agreed to withdraw a similar Halloween costume from its website.

Despite Asda’s speed of response, the story still made national headlines the next day with the media using the Tweets to build their story. Many national journalists were actually involved in the Twitter conversation about the costumes so were watching the story gather speed in real time.

If the worst happens to your business what should you do? Here are seven simple steps to help handle your crisis communications:

  1. Acknowledge the problem or crisis – say ‘we know what is happening and we doing something about it’.
  2. Respond quickly – social media is immediate and bad news can go viral in moments.
  3. Stick to the facts and don’t speculate.
  4. Be honest and transparent and don’t try to cover up or fudge the issue.
  5. Respond on the social media platform where the crisis broke before posting across other social media.
  6. If appropriate, say sorry or admit you are wrong.
  7. Let people know you’ve done that or are doing to address the situation.

At Quest PR, we always advise businesses to document the incident or crisis. Examine what has happened, debrief all staff involved. What are the lessons you can learn from it and how can you improve your incident planning and communication? Use the information to update your crisis management plan – and if you haven’t one then make it a priority to compile a plan.

As experienced trainers in crisis and incident management communications, we have noticed a significant increase in concerns from forward-thinking businesses and organisations about how to handle their online reputations. We understand that planning is critical if you are to monitor and quickly deal with any customer complaints online. If your customers see you deal swiftly and effectively with any crisis, small or large, damage to your brand and reputation can be limited.

Rebecca Marczak, marketing director at Envirovent, leading UK ventilation manufacturer, explains: “Recognising the growing importance of being well prepared to effectively manage our reputation and communications, whatever eventuality, we embarked on a Social Media Incident Planning Communications Workshop with Quest PR. We chose Quest owing to their expertise in working on reputation-management across all media channels, particularly digital. Tailoring the workshop to our needs, we gained a number of practical tips in applying good practice approaches to both traditional offline and new social media platforms.”

Sharon Cain, Quest PR

Former Sky TV and BBC journalist Sharon Cain is the MD of multi award-winning Quest PR which fuses traditional PR and social media and guarantees results. For more information contact Sharon via e-mail to: [email protected], connect on LinkedIn, follow @sharoncain on Twitter or call +44 (0)1423 564 192.