How to recover from a PR disaster

Has your business ever suffered from a PR crisis? Has your brand’s reputation been damaged by events beyond your control?

Maybe a new internal system has caused massive delays, or a part from a new supplier has compromised your product. Maybe external forces have had an impact, such as a financial crash or natural disaster. Or maybe you’ve been the victim of industrial sabotage. Whatever kind of disaster you’re experiencing, this situation can be stressful.

But take a deep breath and don’t panic - it is entirely possible to recover from a brand disaster, and many big name businesses have done so successfully over the years.

In this article, we’ll look at the steps we recommend you take to overcome a public relations disaster and begin healing your brand.


#1 Release a statement

When your company name gets bad press it’s tempting to hide from the wolves at your door. But doing so will only cause more harm to your brand. Your customers need to understand what’s happened, and they need to feel that you have the situation in hand. So the first step is to issue a public statement that is apologetic, authentic and authoritative.

Pencil writing the word sorry

Apologise

Show contrition and admit your mistakes. Don’t try to deflect blame or dodge your culpability. Customers admire honesty, and most people understand that no-one is perfect. If you’ve made an error in judgement, or caused someone harm or inconvenience, hold your hands up and own it. Even if you think it’s genuinely not your fault, apologise anyway. You can never be too generous when it comes to saying sorry.

Make it authentic

If your apology sounds insincere or half-hearted, it can do more harm than good. Demonstrate that you understand the damage that’s been caused, that you empathise with those affected, and that you are taking active and immediate steps to improve the situation.

Make it authoritative

Statements like these have much more impact if they come from someone high up in your business. Having your CEO make a public apology and openly take responsibility for what’s gone wrong will help to put a human face to your brand that people can relate to. If the CEO is taking the time to speak to your customers directly, they will see that you’re taking the matter seriously.

If you’re looking for a good example of a public statement, take a look at this open letter from the CEO of Starbucks.


#2 Resource your customer support team

Brand disasters usually result in increased complaints and queries from the public. This can come via phone, in person or online. Your customer support team will need help to deal with a significant increase in traffic, and you need to make sure they have the resources to handle this well.

Man shouting into a phone

Training

Make sure your support team has training on how to speak to angry and dissatisfied customers. Give them the tools they need to diffuse tense situations, speak calmly and listen. This can be an intense and demotivating job, so training is essential.

Message

It’s important that your whole team is singing from the same hymn sheet, as mixed messages will only make the situation worse. Ensure that every member of your support team understands your company’s stance on the issue, and the message you are sending out. A loose script of valuable phrases can be helpful, but your team should feel able to express themselves with honesty and empathy.

Your support responses should match the sentiments of your public statement - they should be apologetic, authentic and have authority. They should also be positive - while you’re acknowledging that your company has made a mistake, you should also make sure people understand that you’re making things better. If your support team can show your customers that you’ve learned from this incident, that can be a powerful message.

People

Increase your support team either by subsidising them from other parts of your business or by bringing in trained temporary staff to help you through this crisis. Nothing will exacerbate this situation more than stressed, under-resourced support staff who don’t have time to make sure they’re looking after each individual customer.


#3 Compensate your customers

If your customers have ended up being short-changed by your disaster, either in time or money, find a way to compensate them. You may not be able to afford to provide full refunds to everyone in one go, but consider giving away discount vouchers and freebies to let people know you’re sorry. If you can turn a negative experience into a positive one, your customers are more likely to come back.

Wrapped gift with glitter hearts

#4 Focus and fix

Having apologised and looked after your customers, your next priority should be to fix the issue. The problem may have been caused by something entirely beyond your control, or it could have been caused by an internal error. Either way, it’s up to you to put it right.

Make sure the public knows that you’re throwing every available resource into fixing the problem. Release regular updates and timelines to show your progress. Give the public an idea of how long the fix will take and what they can expect in the future.

The words work in progress on a window pane

Hold back new product launches until this situation is well behind you. If your customers feel like you’re not 100% dedicated to sorting out this issue, they will lose patience. And if they feel like you’re trying to brush it under the carpet or cut corners, they won’t trust you. Really focus, and really fix it.


#5 Show your progress

After the situation has been put right - and only after - you can present your new and improved company to the world. Show how you have learned from your mistakes, and that the whole experience has made you a better business overall.

This might be a good time to rebrand, so that your customers associate your new look and feel with the positivity of your new and improved products and services.

Success as Scrabble tiles

#6 Watch our vlog

We’ve recorded a vlog on this very topic, where Matt and Chris go into more detail on these important steps. Check it out!

When disaster first hits, it can feel like the end of the world, but you’ll be surprised at how quickly public perceptions change. If you handle the situation well, and with honesty and dignity, your loyal customers will soon forget your mistakes. Some companies have even managed to turn a PR disaster into a PR success, dealing with the situation so well that they end up attracting new business.

If you need help getting your brand out of a disaster, get in touch with us today. We can help you put the plans in place to repair your public image and grow from this setback.

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