How to deal with a PR disaster
Rushika Bhatia

How to deal with a PR disaster

Bad PR is a reality for all businesses at some point or the other. The genius is in how you face up to it and turn it around, says Sawsan Ghanem, MD, Active Public Relations & Marketing Communications Consultancy.

No business, big or small, is immune to some form of bad PR at some point during their existence; it’s the way of life, it’s part of growing up – like your first crush or the clothes that your mum insisted on making you wear for all family photographs, much to your embarrassment.

But, just like with those experiences, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the business has done something wrong or made a bad choice of PR partner or some poor decisions; it may just have been the target of a disgruntled ex-employee with an axe to grind or, at the other end of the scale, be a victim of leaked confidential information through unforeseen circumstances. Media, wherever you are in the world, will be keen to cover your company’s embarrassing moment as, more often than not, bad news gets more column inches!

So now that you have come to terms with the inevitability of varying degrees of bad PR in the future, the best and most effective approach is to focus on how you will handle this and, even better, turn it around, use it to your advantage or neutralise it. (Just think about that awful outfit and the wonders of Photoshop, or tell everyone it was all the rage that year.)

Every company needs to have a crisis management plan in place to deal with any possible scenarios – all potential “what ifs” should to be covered.

You will need to deal with the situation or issue head on rather than go into denial. No comment means getting nowhere, except into even more hot water. When you are seen to be facing up to your issues, remorseful, accepting of the facts and dealing with what went wrong, you will be looked upon with respect; in fact people who may have never wanted to buy your products, use your services or visit your premises may become your best customers!

To ignore what’s going on, to bury your organisation’s head in the sand or, even worse, refuse to deal with the media who, at first, criticised you is the worst possible path as it will inevitably send the wrong signal to people who will then come up with their own conclusions, whether you are innocent or not. Remember, in this new and exciting digital age we are on show all the time and people can talk about us all the time and do this in very public domains.

Monitor closely what is being said about your company on the Internet as, after all, it’s a 24/7 medium that the whole world has access to. This is pretty straightforward and you can use a wide range of tools that monitor and report every time you are mentioned.

Engage with your audience and the media and rebuild, refresh or renew your relationship with them through different platforms including social media. You need to be seen as approachable and not hiding anything. A company going through a crisis, big or small, should ensure that its key spokespeople are on standby, have a grasp of the entire picture and know how to convey the key messaging in a factual and informative manner – honestly, openly and, when necessary, with humility.

Whatever you do, make sure that anything you communicate or commit to, you deliver on as otherwise you will be the victim of even worse publicity. It’s like those photos of you in cringe-worthy outfits – they may not be flattering, but they are of you, so deal with it and make the best of it.

Good luck…