Your complete guide to identifying, managing and resolving your PR crisis PLUS our top tips on how to avoid them in the first place!

While we’ve been told that all publicity is good publicity, this just isn’t the case when it comes to PR. Think about this Pepsi ad, or this Dove campaign, both of which sparked outrage, boycotts and their own trending hashtags. Sure, these videos got millions of hits from around the globe, but this visibility cost damaged reputations and impacted sales.
In the world of social media, crises can emerge quickly and furiously. While the biggest scandals are generally reserved for the biggest brands, the nature of viral media means things can snowball bigger than we could ever imagine. While not all scandals are major incidents, they all have the potential to negatively affect a business. It’s important to know how to stop a situation in its tracks and avoid a PR crisis altogether. We’ve made this simple by creating easy-to-follow lists on how to identify, swerve and manage PR crises as they happen!

The best defense is a good offense

A PR crisis can be the stuff of nightmares. While it always pays to know how to put your PR fires out, it’s always better to avoid starting any in the first place. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. A PR crisis will often hit when you least expect it and can come out of the most innocent emails, campaigns and tweets. To help put you on the front foot, we’ve pulled together a hit list of the most common PR crises to hit small businesses. Scroll on to learn what to look out for and what situations to avoid!
Receiving complaints isn’t fun for anyone. We’ve all experienced that stinging feeling when one rolls in, especially if it’s unfounded! While there is always a temptation to let that complaint go unanswered, this is never advisable. Not only is it always wise to keep your customers happy and content, but complaints can take on lives of their own if they’re shared on social media or escalated to ombudsmen.   
When you do reply to complaints, it’s never advisable to go negative. While that customer might be rude, aggressive or just plain annoying, keep your tone positive and apologetic. Acknowledge you made a mistake, explain why it happened and take a relevant course of action.
Did you know that 1 in 5 PR disasters break on Twitter? The reach and virality of social media makes it a melting pot of potential crises. Posting an insensitive Tweet or a controversial Instagram can put your brand in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. The best way to counter this is to have a clear social media strategy and a specific person who is in control of it. That way you have a consistent approach to social media, and a dedicated person who can stay on top of things if a situation starts to go wild.
PR doesn’t exist in a bubble. World events and trending movements will always impact how products, campaigns and services are received by the public. Always be aware of what’s going on in the world, and know how to position your brand accordingly. For example, running a campaign or promo in the aftermath of natural disasters, political upheaval, and major social movements is not to be advised!
Small PR crises happen every day. Orders go missing and brands are wrongly credited. Don’t turn these into major incidents by ignoring them and hoping they’ll go away. Confronting every issue head-on helps to stop it in its tracks, while failing do to you can mean the problem takes on a life of its own.

Six Steps to Mitigating your PR Crisis

So you’re across the most common PR disasters and have done your best to avoid falling into any bad habits or making any missteps. Unfortunately, no brand or company is impervious to a PR crisis, and even the most considered brands can experience a damaging situation. Know how to fix a problem and resolve situations with our six-step guide to managing your PR disaster!
Just like any crisis, a PR disaster requires a calm head and a clear plan. While many of us respond to stressful situations with knee-jerk reactions, these can often do more harm than good. If you feel a crisis is beginning or a situation is getting out of hand, press pause and take a breath. Take the time to brief your team on what’s happened. Ensure they know what is expected of them and how (if necessary) they should respond to media attention. Not only does this keep your house in order and your team working effectively, but it will allow you to focus on putting that fire out.
Before you start resolving the situation, it’s always advisable to sit back and take stock of what’s gone wrong. Do some research and find out exactly what the crisis is and how it occurred. Was it a campaign taken the wrong way, or a mistake on your behalf? Did a team member publish a story without editing it or was confidential information accidentally made public? Knowing what the problem is will help with finding the perfect strategy to resolve it AND will make sure you avoid similar situations in the future.
Every crisis will have its victims. Knowing who you’ve offended and how to reach them is important in smoothing everything over. Some small-scale crisis can be resolved with a bunch of flowers and an amendment, while others will need serious mitigation.  Find out if your crisis has made it into the media, is there a trending hashtag or a tsunami of complaint emails rolling in? If your crisis is wide reaching, think about what channels are best placed to reach the offended parties. Will an Instagram post do the job, do you need a press release or perhaps a pop up message on your website?
Now you know what’s gone wrong and who it’s affecting, it’s time to decide how you’re going to deal with the issue. You and your company need to establish a specific position to the crisis, one that your whole team can get behind. This position will influence all your statements and responses to the crisis and will help you in deciding your course of action.
With your position decided, you can start filtering out your message. Target the media channels you identified in step three and stick to the position you and your team decided on. It’s always good to appoint a spokesperson to deal with all public appearances and media questions – this ensures consistency and shows a united front.
If you’re not sure what your message should be, it always helps to be honest and to take responsibility. Get ahead of the crisis and take control of the situation by being transparent about what went wrong, how you’re fixing it and how your company will learn from the experience.
For further information on just what to say, check out this helpful guide!
Now your crisis plan is well under way and the positive messaging is rolling out, it’s important to keep focused and avoid complacency. Monitor how your position and messaging is being received and be prepared to tweak your plans. Some crises can grow or change even as you’re putting them out: they might begin to affect new parties or receive additional media coverage. Be ready to change your plans appropriately lest your mitigation turn into a disaster itself!
Want to know more about avoiding PR disasters? Why not read our guide on identifying and preventing mistakes made by almost every creative business, or find out how to keep your company in the good books with everyone from difficult clients to interns?
Image credits: The disaster series by David LaChapelle for Vogue Italiana (banner); the best defense is a good offense – Mia Wasikowska & Michael Fassbender in Jane Eyre; manage your crisis – Emma Summerton for W Magazine