When a company has a crisis that affects public perception of its brand, a response is needed in order to mitigate (and hopefully, eliminate) said crisis. In the business community, the art of delivering this response is called crisis management – and in the PR world, we refer to it as crisis communications.
But what kind of company needs crisis communications, really? Surely not yours, right? Wrong! The truth is, every type of business encounters the need for crisis management at some point.
Often, we only think of household names when it comes to brand crises – Coca Cola’s infamous New Coke debacle, for example, or the safety recalls affecting automobile manufacturers like General Motors. It seems like big-name apparel makers are always under fire for outsourcing operations, and Walmart is consistently accused of “driving out” mom-and-pop businesses.
But while your business may not encounter a public perception crisis on this scale, it can certainly be vulnerable to situations that will require crisis communications in order to repair your brand.
Here are some examples of crisis scenarios that small to mid-sized businesses can encounter:
- Medical and medi-spa offices accused of malpractice. This is becoming more common with the rise of elective procedures.
- Software creators accused of IP infringement. Now that open source software development is the norm, so are accusations of copyright infringement.
- Caregiving facilities accused of being inadequate. All it takes is a complaint from one family member to tank the reputation of a licensed caregiving facility for children, senior citizens or the disabled.
- CEOs being arrested, sued, or otherwise lambasted. If it involves company leadership, it affects the whole company whether the matter is personal or business.
- Developers being vilified for building near homes, historic buildings or other existing structures. The bigger your project, the “badder” it will be in the eyes of the “no growth” local activist crowd.
Even if a lawsuit is never initiated, public perception can be severely impacted in any of these instances. If the accusers go to the media, that’s all it takes for the brand to take a major hit.
And in the Internet age, something like that doesn’t “just go away.” A TV news segment can live forever on YouTube. A local newspaper story will be posted again and again on Facebook groups and Twitter threads, impacting the business every time someone new is exposed to it. And if the crisis is worthy of national media coverage (no matter how small), it will be nearly impossible to get rid of. These are things that businesses should never take lying down. Enlisting the help of a public relations firm that offers crisis communications is the only viable way to fight back. As communications professionals, a public relations team can:
- Identify key messages to mitigate the crisis
- Draft written responses to media inquiries
- Write and deliver spokesperson speeches
- Develop talking points for company spokespeople
- Deflect from the crisis and send positive messages to the public about the brand
- Media train the company’s staff immediately after the crisis breaks
In addition to these services, crisis communications teams can offer customized services to help the brand manage its image for the long-term. It may include developing new key messages that the company can weave throughout its marketing materials, advertising campaigns and media coverage for the foreseeable future. The crisis communications side of public relations can be invaluable to businesses of any size or scope; in fact, effective crisis management may even save a small to mid-sized company from going under.