Not understanding mistakes often leads to repeating them. This means that one of the most important things public relations departments or agencies can do after a negative story breaks is to carefully go over the event and move forward with a renewed approach to communication.
It only takes one slip-up to keep a harmful story circulating long after the initial event has died down, which means there are a few important practices PR pros should embrace when caught up in one of these crises. Departments that carefully monitor the aftermath and take salient lessons away from mistakes can effectively pilot firms through the next few months.
The following are a few recent examples of organizations that found themselves in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. Their examples may prove helpful for any PR department dealing with a similar confluence of events. These issues prove that no matter how well-formed a crisis management plan is before a problem presents itself, facts gleaned during and after a negative event occurs will also prove helpful in changing course.
- Volkswagen's next move: It's hard to think of a company that had a worse 2016 than Volkswagen. Emissions tests cheating, criminal investigations, a mass loss of trust - these are the things of PR nightmares. Bloomberg recently asked experts to analyse the post-scandal prospects of Volkswagen and plot a way forward. The general consensus is that the company should not retreat from the public eye, instead, leaning on simple, solemn feel-good messaging that does away with overt environmental themes that might evoke emissions cheating. Marketing must get on board with this messaging or risk inflaming negative feelings anew.
- Takata makes statements: Another manufacturer dealing with a huge scandal, Takata, received both criticism and praise from PR Daily for its post-crisis statements. The source explained that carefully phrased public releases from executives are not a reliable way to quiet criticism. When companies note large amounts of backlash, they should take an alternative approach and focus on solutions and actions taken. PR Daily specified that a list of steps taken since a scandal broke is more likely to be welcomed by the public.
- Zoo monitors discourse: Monitoring the tone and sources of discourse following a PR nightmare allows companies to formulate the right response. The Holmes Report explained that the Cincinnati Zoo did the best job it could have following the much-reported incident where zoo keepers shot a gorilla to protect a child in the enclosure. The source explained that officials were aware of what the public cared about and showed empathy and understanding. This careful calculation of tone helped the zoo's PR department weather a firestorm of outcry.
Learn and move forward
No two crises are the same. The above examples and analyses show that a keen understanding of what went wrong - and how the parties involved feel - can help determine a firm's next move. A PR department has to deal with the crisis it is actually facing, rather than some hypothetical model. Up-to-date information on perception can inform everything from how executives speak to the press to instructions for the marketing department's next campaign.
PR departments and agencies that are adept at media monitoring and can gather intelligence on all forms of discourse, from mainstream news to social media, will naturally be able to monitor crises better than less-informed firms. Dealing with unpredictable scenarios and coming back from chaotic situations are some of the most important roles PR professionals will fulfill, and drawing up an accurate map of the situation is a key part of performing these crisis management duties.