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PR 101: How to Properly Manage a Public Relations Crisis

April 21st, 2017

Recent controversy from United Airlines and Pepsi has put both brands in the ICU. Will they ever recover? Well, that all depends on how their PR teams manage the respective gaffes. As both companies scramble to perform some serious damage control, they are shedding light on what to do and what not to do in similar situations.

Since every company should know how to properly manage a PR crisis, here are a few best practices to keep in mind:

1. Honesty is the Best Policy

If a company did in fact make a mistake, it’s always better to be honest and apologize for the wrongdoing rather than be defensive. In today’s digital age, the truth always comes out and spreads like wildfire. There is no way to cover up a viral video or to make a damaging photo disappear. However, if a company is sincere in their apology, there is a chance the public may forgive.

2. Train Key Spokespeople

As important it is to say the right thing, how it is said also matters. A company’s apology can consist of all the right words, but if their spokesperson has a disingenuous tone of voice or arrogant mannerism when delivering the apology, the public will see right through it.

Every company should have a communications team in place and train key spokespeople for crisis management. Spokespeople should be prepared for tough and uncomfortable situations through media coaching, on camera training, and interview role playing.

3. Know Your Audience

As part of a crisis response plan, it’s advisable for a company to cater messages and official statements toward the specific target audience that was affected.

Pepsi’s statement could have been more sensitive to Black Lives Matter protestors as well as victims of police brutality. Instead, they apologized to Kendall Jenner, the star of their commercial.

The public was also disappointed in the first attempt at an apology from United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz. Munoz’s callous apology should have been more compassionate toward the mistreatment of the passenger dragged off from Flight 3411. Instead, Munoz regarded the violated passenger as disruptive and belligerent.

4. Actions Speak Louder than Words

To regain the public’s trust, a company must first acknowledge and offer solutions to the root cause of the situation; then actively make changes to ensure it does not happen again.

United Airlines recently changed their policies to prevent future overbooking incidents from ever happening again. Airline crews are now required to check in at least an hour before a flight leaves and can no longer displace, or forcibly remove, a customer who has already boarded.

Pepsi also listened to the public’s outrage and put their money where their mouth is when they pulled the Black Lives Matter inspired commercial shortly after it aired.

By accepting and acting upon corporate and social responsibility, companies can start rebuilding relationships that were tarnished.

The right response to a PR crisis can make or break a company’s reputation. By reassessing core values, remaining honest, and putting positive changes into action, credibility can be restored. With these best practices in place, companies have a greater chance of bouncing back after a blow to their brand.

Caroline Vallila

Caroline is responsible for public relations, social media, content marketing and account management at Springboard. In her spare time, she enjoys attending concerts, Giants games and taking long walks on the beach.

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