I’m not typically one for ‘lists’ or ‘tips’ but given the potential for brand crises engendered by instantaneous & social media, every company, big and small, public and private, needs to know the basics when it comes to handling consumer criticism, negative press, and averting the looming crisis.

[Disclaimer: Ronn Torossian is my boss and the CEO of 5W Public Relations.]

Ronn, well versed in Crisis Communication, brings us the following 5 tips, upon which I’ve expounded a bit, and added one of my own.

  • It can be tempting to immediate respond to negative comments and criticism, but a thought out, well crafted response has a much better chance of mitigating any potential crisis, even if it takes more time than you’d like.
  • If you feel you must respond right away, the best thing to do is to explain, as sincerely as possibly, that your audience’s voices are heard and that remedying whatever issue is plaguing them is the sole focus of your attention at the moment. Details can come later.
  • In today’s world of instant communication and social media, big brands should actively be monitoring ALL media, especially, social platforms & the blogosphere, both for general consumer feedback, and to keep apprised of any potential crisis. Motrin and Domino’s are recent examples of brands that failed in this arena. They had an underdeveloped or no established presence in the social media realm and were thus unable to negate their respective consumers’ concerns before they snowballed into a full-blown PR Crisis.
  • Every business and brand should have a crisis contingency plan. This includes a list of friendly media outlets to contact, a predetermined spokesperson to be the voice of the company, and a clear and succinct message as your bottom line. All employees, receptionists to Senior Vice Presidents, should be apprised of the proper protocol.
  • Choosing the media outlet that serves as your vehicle for response in a crisis can be as important as the actual message you deliver. Some brands are apt for TV, others, print, and still others, online platforms and bloggers. Be cognizant of which outlets have been amicable in the past and with which and whom you have relationships. If bloggers are the ones rioting against your brand, it’s you may be enticed to take your message to them directly, but such a move could end up providing them with more fodder with which to attack you.
  • A crisis is not the time for risky maneuvers or innovation. Stick to your principals and remind your consumers and customers why they value your brand in the first place.
  1. For crisis communication, numerous case studies have proven that it is always best to respond quickly and efficiently. Sometimes, you don’t have time or luxury to think of a well-crafted response. Crisis communication plans are key when it comes to this – you should have messages already printed out for any emergency so that you give the media something. You really should respond within 15 minutes of a crisis. (with at least a two line statement)

    For protocol, the only thing that people not directly involved with the plan (ie. receptionist) should know is who to refer people to. This will help with confusion, keeping statements consistent and making the message clear. Internally, a debriefing should be held so staff knows what is going on after statements have been made.

    A spokesperson should be appointed even when there isn’t a crisis – great point.

    If the bloggers are the ones attacking you, you should respond to them. Don’t ignore them – they will just blast you more.

    Just some thoughts. Good post.


  2. Jeremy says:

    I think your point about knowing who your friends are and having tools in place to contact them fast is really key. Since you’ll probably have a team managing your crisis communications efforts, your relationship information (contact info, recent communications) shouldn’t exist just in one person’s head.

  3. S. says:

    As Lauren mentioned, I believe the second bullet should be standard practice and not just in case an organization feels the need to respond right away. You should always be responding right away with a sincere assurance that you are addressing the problem – and as you stated – the details (and that well thought out and crafted response) can come later. In a PR crisis, silence speaks much louder than words.

    Again, Lauren nailed it on the head. Choosing the right media outlets to leverage during a crisis is smart, but if one medium has been harder on you int he past than others, avoiding them is more fuel for their fire. In fact, regularly avoiding them outside of crisis situations can be fueling their rants as well.

    Big brands should definitely be monitoring all forms of media, you’re right. Probably the easiest way for crisis situations to be contained or even avoided in the first place.


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