We asked David Painter, the Public Relations and Reputation Management Course Director in the New Media Journalism Master’s program (he also teaches the Event Marketing and Production course in Full Sail’s Public Relations Master’s program) how public relations can make an already bad situation worse. David shares five examples below.
Customer rants on social media. Toxic petro-chemical spills. Politicians and business leaders behaving unethically. The media generate a 24-hour breaking news cycle of crises that public relations professionals try to mitigate on a daily basis. Sometimes, however, the public relations professionals may actually make a bad situation worse. Here are five ways that can happen.
Failure to Plan.
Something will go wrong at some point, so every organization should have a plan in place to prepare for situations like severe weather, labor, supplier, financing, mechanical issues, and user-generated content on social media and review sites that may damage their reputations. Whether the crisis situation involves tainted food products, faulty electrical parts, or extremely negative information on Internet and social media sites, organizations failing to prepare initial statements, news releases, and train their spokespeople to deal with these situations will see the crisis spiral out of control and damage their reputations.
Failure to Respond Quickly.
Bad situations do not just go away. Closely related to the failure to plan is the failure to respond quickly. Waiting for a problem to go away, or staying silent and hoping the crisis will blow over, only makes the situation worse. There’s a chance the problem may spiral out of control, and the company will be perceived as negligent and irresponsible.
Failure to Listen.
Public relations professionals need to be able to empathize and problem solve. When conditions may entail negative outcomes, PR professionals need to know the factual accounts of the incidents and the concerns of those who may be affected by it before they can respond. Companies that don’t respond quickly to crisis situations with information frequently also fail to back-up their words with appropriate actions, like recalling faulty or tainted products, offering refunds, or providing services to injured parties.
Failure to Be Transparent.
Honesty really is the best policy. Companies’ reputations tend to suffer when people don’t see them as open and forthcoming. Even worse, if the company doesn’t provide prompt and accurate information, people will turn to other sources. Then, the company has lost the ability to manage their own crisis message. People will believe the company has something to hide. Although the knee-jerk response to a crisis may be to deny it exists, to cover-up potentially damaging information, to shift blame, or to minimize the problem, it is imperative that honesty, candor, and openness are used to help regain the public’s trust.
Failure to Collaborate.
There is strength in numbers. When a company deals with a potentially risky, technical, proprietary, financial, or other sensitive problem, all departments should be involved. Further, the company needs to accept the public as a legitimate and equal partner during crisis situations. Without this collaboration, organizations risk worsening the situation … and their profitability.