Tips for Managing a PR Crisis at Your Small Business

If you think your small business is immune to a PR crisis, you're wrong — so it pays to prepare.
pr-crisis
If your business doesn't have a PR specialist on staff, designate certain go-to people to be prepared in case a sticky situation arises. (Photo: HAKINMHAN/Shutterstock)

Free publicity is a wonderful thing — unless it’s negative publicity. Think your business is too small for a PR crisis? It isn’t.

“Brands now have seemingly limitless reach with the internet and social media, so really any business can experience a serious faux pas,” said Lauren Fairbanks, partner and chief content strategist for marketing firm S/G Content Marketing.

Here are tips on how to survive a PR crisis and minimize the damage.

Related: When and How to Respond to Negative Comments Online

Prepare in advance

Robin-Samora

“You may not think you’ll ever have a PR crisis, but if you’re in business it’s not only possible, it’s probable.” -Robin Samora (Photo: Robin Samora)

Before a sticky situation arises, PR expert and author Robin Samora said it’s important to designate go-to people that will help you take care of things. “You may not think you’ll ever have a PR crisis, but if you’re in business it’s not only possible, it’s probable,” so it’s best to be prepared.

According to Samora, your crisis management team should include you (the owner), your legal advisor and your top marketing and human resources people, if you have them. Most small businesses don’t have a public relations specialist on staff, so it would be good to find one you can consult with should the need arise.

Head a crisis off at the pass

Taking time to listen can help stop a minor issue from becoming disastrous. Keep an ear to the ground and listen to what your employees, customers and even enemies are saying, advised Samora. “Pick up chatter early enough and you might save yourself time, upset and a major PR crisis,” she said.

Negative PR situations can quickly become a game of telephone in which the story changes with each new telling. If you go directly to the source of a negative accusation and really listen, you should be able to dig deeper and find the root of the problem. which will help you determine how to respond appropriately.

Keep calm

keep-calm

(Photo: Nobelus/Shutterstock)

“It’s hard to keep your cool when you’ve been attacked, and it takes some coaching to stay even-keeled,” said Samora. “It’s also difficult to not take everything personally.”

The trick is to stop, take a breath and remember that everyone makes mistakes — and that the situation will pass.

Be transparent

To mend a damaged reputation, take responsibility when you or your business has made an error.

“If you were wrong, then you need to sincerely apologize and provide a plan for restitution,” advised Angelique Pivoine, owner of marketing and PR firm Good Thinking Agency.

Samora said admitting you were in the wrong is not a sign of weakness. Rather, “being transparent shows that you bleed like everyone else and you’re human. If you’re the leader of the pack and you’ve messed up, admit it and don’t fudge the details.”

angelique-pivoine

“Consumer loyalty can plummet overnight, but it doesn’t return quickly.” -Angelique Pivoine (Photo: Angelique Pivoine)

Sometimes transparency can go a long way toward rebuilding confidence in your company. “Be outspoken about the steps you’re taking to remedy the situation,” said Fairbanks. “You want your customers to understand how you’re going to right a wrong, and also how you’re going to ensure that a similar incident doesn’t happen in the future.”

On the other hand, if you’ve explored the issue and don’t believe you were in the wrong, you need to offer — and stand by — your side of the story, said Pivoine. “Sure, you refused a return, but what were the circumstances of the return? Maybe you kicked out a customer, but why did you do it?”

Related: 10 Tips for Crafting an Effective Return Policy (and Enforcing It)

Give it time

“Consumer loyalty can plummet overnight, but it doesn’t return quickly,” said Pivoine. “However, it can return quicker than expected if you continue to prove yourself through your actions. If you continue to provide excellent products and excellent services, your customers will return. Or you might gain a lot more new customers.”

Fairbanks suggested finding ways to follow up with good press. “Whether that’s donating money to a charity or cause that’s important to your industry or your customers or rewarding employees who volunteer their time with charitable organizations, make sure you find ways to give back to the community,” she said. “Repairing a brand reputation doesn’t happen overnight and takes a lot of commitment and ongoing communication.”

Most important, don’t dwell on the negative, said Samora. Allow yourself to move past the crisis. “If you keep reliving mistakes you’ll drive yourself crazy. Stick to your agenda and keep moving forward with inspired action. That’s how you get results.”

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