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In today’s digital age, information spreads quickly around the globe through online and social media networks. The good thing about our digital world is that everyone can access the most updated news, but at the same time, it also means anyone can have an opinion on any issue and express it to the world. As PR practitioners, we’re not always able to predict when our news will be met with negative reactions.

We’ve seen some prominent examples recently to remind us that a crisis can hit a brand fast and hard (see United Airlines and, closer to home, L'Oréal Hong Kong). And because communication between a brand and the public can sometimes be make or break, it’s crucial to map out a communication crisis management plan to follow should the worst occur. Here are some tips that will guide you to deal with a PR crisis.

Stay calm
First thing’s first – keep calm, and don’t panic. When it comes to a crisis, the press often seek out a response as soon as possible, so they might ask a lot of questions that you might not be fully prepared for yet. Although it’s important to respond promptly, it is more important that you have first agreed upon a plan with the client so as to ensure the whole team is delivering a consistent message. Once you’ve established your message, brief colleagues so that they are aware of how to action any inbound calls that might come through requesting comment, and make sure no one answers media enquiries unless they have permission to do so. 

Prepare a media statement
After you’ve figured out your plan, prepare a media statement. This should be around half a page in length, clearly addressing the situation while stating the facts and identifying follow-up actions. Don’t shift the responsibility to other parties even if others have played a part – a sincere apology is worth a thousand words. Send out the media statement to relevant press, and share updates on the brand’s social media channels to let the public know that your brand is transparent and willing to face the crisis and rectify the situation.

Identify a spokesperson
In a time of crisis, it is critical to appoint a member of senior management from the brand to be the spokesperson. As the face of the brand, this figure needs to be able to convey the message that’s been agreed upon in order to take control of the conversation. It’s easy to be emotional under pressure though, so the spokesperson should be briefed thoroughly about any potential backlash from the crisis, while also being prepared to face a series of critical media enquiries. Your spokesperson needs to be able to represent the brand while displaying grace under potential fire.

Monitor the conversation
As a crisis can usually last for several days or more and, an essential PR duty during this time is to monitor what is being said about the brand by using targeted keywords. Keep abreast of how the public and press respond to brand statements. Given that social media makes it easy for anyone to express their opinion on a given topic, make sure you stay on top of social threads, carefully responding to both positive comments and criticism while staying on message. This type of engagement can help establish the sincerity and credibility of the brand as the trusted source of information about the crisis.

As the adage goes, it takes years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. A good crisis plan helps you stay calm, and gives you the chance to prevent the bad from getting worse – Burger King Belgium provide a great recent example of how to deal with a crisis effectively. And who knows, you might just be able to turn your story into good news.

The cat. Where is she? What did she do? Did she tell you what she thinks? Do you know if the dog talked to her already? Was there a social post? Were there any comments on it? Did anyone mention her feet?

As the PR industry evolves into the new mobile and digital reality, the skill set of PR and communications professionals is being revisited. But the one thing that will never change is the need to be curious.

Knowing what to anticipate, and when, is crucial to long-term success in the PR game. It takes an inquisitive mind to be one step ahead of the client’s train of thought, the journalist’s questions or the stakeholder’s demands. Natural curiosity remains the key personality trait of a great PR professional.

Digging out information, asking questions, discovering insights, formulating new ideas and devising crafty solutions – sometimes at the drop of a hat – is what we do every day. And an inquisitive mindset is what drives us to keep on discovering, to keep on asking, and to keep on creating.

At Sinclair Communications, we love people who have travelled off the well-trod path, have learnt a new language “just because”, have done courses on Kazakh cuisine or Jordanian art because they just needed to know what it was all about. Avid readers, cultural mavericks, digital geeks – never be afraid to indulge your curiosity. You have a natural home for it in PR.