A PR crisis can hit at any time and, as we have all seen in 2020, it can come when you least expect it. No one could have ever predicted the events that unfolded last year, particularly its impact on the food and drink industry, which went from everything to nothing overnight. Account manager Charlotte Spencer shares her ten top tips when dealing with a crisis and why your business needs to consider a PR crisis plan.
Last year, food and drink companies were forced to innovate and introduce new products, new ways of working and new ideas to stay on top of consumer habits, such as the sudden shift to takeaway, an increase in delivery options and the rise of cook at home alternatives. When organisations are dealing with uncertainty and pushed outside their comfort zone – as we saw from the last 12-months of the pandemic – this is where mistakes can happen.
1. Get everyone on board
It is essential that you get all the senior team members involved from day one. You need to get buy in from the most important figures and ensure that everyone understands the critical need for a crisis communications plan as well as their role and responsibilities if one were to happen. How you prepare for a crisis will determine how well and how quickly you bounce back.
2. Create a communications plan
After you achieve buy in you will need to create a foolproof communications plan. This will become your bible in the event of a crisis and will include identifying the risks, examples of statements, key contacts, and protocols. You should have multiple copies, update it regularly and log changes, with the date and initials so you can keep tabs on what has been updated.
3. Choose your team wisely
You should identify a small crisis team made of key stakeholders such as business executives, board members, HR leads, and legal team as well as your marketing manager and PR partner. The team should be aware the approvals process and decide who needs to be involved when signing off press statements, as time will be of essence.
4. Select a spokesperson
One individual should be designated as the primary spokesperson to represent the company and be on hand to answer media questions throughout the crisis. Spokespeople should ideally be media trained, comfortable on radio and TV, and with reporters. You should also ensure that employees are aware of the process if they are approached by unexpected media enquiries.
5. Understand the situation
Understanding the issue and knowing what determines a crisis is crucial, as not every issue will be a full-blown disaster. A negative Google review or a small social media comment isn’t a PR crisis but it does have the potential to be, if it’s not managed correctly.
For example, food safety issues, workplace harassment or a major incident on site are all forms of crises in this sector. As part of understanding the issue, you should work closely with your PR team to do as much research as you can, find out what people are saying and the overall sentiment and search if anything has been published yet, if so, how is the media reporting it?
6. Take a deep breath and stay calm
Find out the facts, investigate what has happened and speak to the people involved. Your decisions will impact the business and brand reputation, so it is vital that you think carefully about the best way to respond.
7. How and when should I respond?
Controlling the story is key. You will need to craft an appropriate response immediately, if you delay the response you run the risk of the wrong narrative beating you to the media first. Be prepared to draft two statements, a holding statement first to allow you more time to find the facts and the second statement with more information. Confirm what has happened, define any risks to the public and explain what is being done. Keep it concise, clear, and transparent with the facts and be authentic and direct when dealing with media enquiries.
Don’t forget the importance of internal comms and other stakeholders. Ensure that all staff and colleagues know what is happening; the last thing you want is for them to hear it first through the media.
8. Show empathy
Always prioritise the safety, welfare and health of people involved including customers and employees. Show that you care and don’t be defensive, say sorry and make sure you mean it.
9. Dealing with social media
Social media is great tool for reaching customers and gaining attention, but it also provides a platform and an unlimited ability for people to say what they want, whenever they want. If you are receiving negative comments then you will need to put a proper strategy in place, and ensure it is consistent. If you are doing one thing on one channel, then you need to make sure it is matched across the others.
It’s important that you don’t hide, hit back or delete a genuine complaint, but use it as an opportunity to demonstrate your brand’s excellent customer service.
10. Monitor the situation
Although the crisis may have eased, it is important you keep an eye on social media, track all press clippings and comments on news articles so you still have an idea on what is being said. Be proactive and think about how to rebuild trust, use good news stories and show customers that lessons have been learned. Now is the time to review your crisis plan, learn from any mistakes and stay positive.
Handling a potential crisis is our speciality. We help ensure that negative press doesn’t have a detrimental impact on your brand to keep business booming.
We offer crisis simulations and media training workshops to give you the skills to be ‘interview ready’.
We also deliver crisis strategy planning so you can learn to expect the unexpected and adopt the best approach to manage your response internally and externally.
Need help with your crisis comms? Get in touch to see how we can help.