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Crisis Management: How to Protect Your Business in Difficult Times

Darren Northeast
Posted by Darren Northeast on 24.06.2024

A crisis can hit any business, whatever the sector. Whether it’s a member of staff committing a crime, an accident in the workplace, a customer being injured or worse, a product recall, or even a natural disaster throwing supply chains into chaos – no business is exempt.

If you’re unfortunate enough to get hit with the unexpected, it can be challenging internally and potentially hugely damaging to your public image.

In these moments the temptation can be to turn inward and focus all your energies on remedying the issue or looking after your team and battening down the hatches against the press – but failing to take care of how the story plays out in public can end up creating an even bigger problem for your business down the line. However, get it right and you can maintain or even improve brand reputation and customer trust.

Here at Darren Northeast PR, we thoroughly understand the importance of an effective crisis management plan. Here are some things you can do to get ahead of a crisis and manage how it plays out in the media and public perception…

Have a plan

As the old military adage goes ‘proper planning prevents poor performance’; making a plan for managing a crisis is key. The starting point is deciding who will take the lead in such an event – who will be the press contact, the legal advisor, the representative from the leadership team and so on. Also, you need to make it crystal clear who should not be speaking to the press in the event of a crisis.

But that’s not nearly enough – really good crisis management planning means delving into the details, taking time to think through and list out all the possible disasters, then preparing a media statement template, or ideally a draft media statement tailored to each type of crisis, written and ready to go. That way, if the time comes, it can be tweaked and signed off quickly.

Get ahead of the story

In an age of online news and social media, time will rarely be on your side in the event of a crisis. No one will wait for you to agonise over your response – they’ll go ahead with what’s known, or what they think is known. To have an opportunity to steer the narrative, you need to act fast and decisively. Delay and indecisiveness can instead exacerbate the situation and lead to further reputational damage.

Make sure information gathering is done thoroughly, but at pace. When you understand the nature and scope of the crisis, then be transparent, putting your prepared crisis management plans into action.

Acknowledge the crisis as soon as possible and put out regular updates so the public can see that you’re on top of things. Make sure you correct misinformation and rumours as soon as possible. Even if the circumstances aren’t all yet clear, you can share that you’re investigating and how you’re responding to the situation – being open and honest maintains trust and credibility.

Make sure you’re utilising all available communication channels – social media, website, press statements – and, crucially, your internal channels. Providing your people and key stakeholders with accurate information and addressing their concerns can help contain a story and manage the risk of misinformation leaking out into the public domain.

It’s ok to say “sorry”

In anything you put out, it is very important to show empathy for those impacted and take responsibility where appropriate. You need to come over as human and concerned, not cold and corporate. 

There might very well be things you’d rather weren’t the case when a crisis erupts – employees at fault, systems failing, but avoid the temptation to obfuscate or lie. While you may not want to give chapter and verse, deflecting blame and making excuses will only reflect badly on you. 

While you might not want to hold your hands up with a full ‘mea culpa’ until the facts have come to light, sometimes simply saying ‘I’m sorry this has happened’ can win respect and esteem.

Keep flexible

Managing the various phases of a crisis requires flexibility. Through the power of social media, public sentiment can shift rapidly; to avoid being accused of being ‘cloth-eared’ or ‘tone-deaf’, keep in touch with how the story is playing out and adapt your tone and approach accordingly.

Keep flexibility in mind going forward too – analyse your response to fine-tune your plans for the next time a crisis hits, but never make the mistake of thinking it will look exactly the same as the last time!

Crisis management is an essential aspect of public relations that can make or break a brand’s reputation. Preparation and action are everything – and trust us, the very worst thing you can do is ignore the story and bury your head in the sand and hope it goes away – it won’t!

By preparing in advance, acting quickly, communicating transparently, monitoring public sentiment, and learning from each experience, you can emerge from a crisis stronger, and with your reputation intact.At Darren Northeast PR, we are experts in building detailed and extensive crisis communication plans, helping countless clients effectively manage their crisis PR. If this is a service you’d be interested in, get in touch with us today and learn how we can support your business pr@darrennortheast.co.uk or call 01202 676 762