PR in Crisis Management
— November 30th, 2019
As specialists in creating and retaining a company’s public image and reputation, PR teams play a vital role when a crisis occurs. Experienced at using the right words, strategies, and marketing campaigns, PR departments are critical in altering public perception of an organization after disaster strikes.
A public crisis can often be a fresh start for a business. In fact,42% of companies who faced a major crisis from 2014-2019 said they were "in a better place" post-crisis. By effectively reaching out to the public, PR teams can not only rebuild faith in the company but, in some cases, make it more successful than it was, to begin with.
three key communication lessons for managing a crisis
What is the role of PR in crisis management?
If a company hopes to overcome a crisis or scandal, it is essential that they have a capable and experienced PR team in place. The important steps PR departments take before, during, and after the crisis are vital for the recovery and continued success of a business or brand. The chief steps PR departments will take to combat a disaster include:
Offering advice and guidance: It is extremely useful for PR teams to be prepared in advance for any potential catastrophes. No matter how successful a business is, it is not immune to disaster and this is why having a crisis management plan in place from the offset can be pivotal in determining how well a crisis can be managed and recovered from. In addition, the earlier the PR department is made aware of the incident once it has actually occurred, the better equipped they are to act quickly in advising the company on matters such as the best strategic approach to take, which key audiences to communicate with first, and any terms that should be avoided.
Handling press and media attention: After the crisis has spread publicly, the PR department will focus on taking a more reactive approach. This means they will be responding to what is happening in the media and will constantly be updating plans on how best to respond next. The PR department will often draft support materials and statements so that the company is ready to answer difficult questions presented by publications or journalists connected to the issue. They also schedule meetings and interviews with the media to ensure that the company comes off in the best possible light. All the while, the PR department will be offering insights on how a brand can maintain the loyalty of its customers, shareholders, and investors.
Providing ongoing support after an incident: Even after the initial crisis has passed, PR teams have a lot of cleaning up to do before a company can regain its original reputation and matters can return to normal. At this point, the PR department will work on repairing the damage that occurred during the crisis. For instance, they might create a plan for a marketing strategy that draws more attention to the positive aspects of the brand’s personality. PR teams will also try to shift attention away from the incident by organizing interviews and press releases to assist the company in getting back to business as usual. Some PR teams may prepare a plan to fall back on if a similar incident is ever to arise again.
What are some high-profile PR crisis management examples?
Cadbury Worms Scandal (2003)
In 2003, in Mumbai India, two chocolate lovers were shocked to find their Cadbury Dairy Milk bars were infested with worms. After the Maharashtra Food and Drug Administration seized the chocolate stocks produced at Cadbury's Pune plant, the company publicly denied any chance that contamination of the chocolate took place during the manufacturing stage.
However, as Cadbury realized the magnitude of the issue, it recovered quickly by pulling all its advertising and instead of running an educational PR project for the media. Publications were kept up to date with the improvements to production and they even changed their packaging.
Cadbury did face a significant plummet in sales after the incident, but thanks to aggressive advertising, they were almost back to pre-crisis levels in just eight weeks, and the company reclaimed its throne at the top of India’s chocolate industry.
German Wings Disaster (2015)
After a German Wings plane crashed into the French Alps in 2015, the story was widely reported in the media. It was later revealed that the crash had not been the result of a fault with the aircraft but had been a deliberate crash by pilot Andreas Lubitz, who was found out to have been suffering from depression.
A media spotlight was cast onto the airline and people demanded answers. CEO of Lufthansa, Casten Sphor, was a compelling spokesperson, who vowed to ensure pilots were fully checked in all aspects of health, and he delivered his sentiments to all families involved.
Sphor was quoted as saying ‘Safety in aviation is not given’, but no business should ever have to pick themselves up from such a tragic event, although done amicably by German Wings.
Tylenol Tampering (1982)
The popular pain-killer brand Tylenol came under fire in 1982 when seven people in Chicago were reported dead after consuming over-the-counter Extra-Strength Tylenol capsules. After the crisis, it was assumed that the scandal would be too much for the company to ever recover from.
Even though Johnson & Johnson, Tylenol’s parent company, was aware that it was not directly responsible for the deaths as it later came to light that the drugs had been tampered with, it still decided to immediately recall 32 million bottles of the product and also issued a national warning against consuming Tylenol capsules. When Tylenol re-introduced its product, it used tamper-resistant packaging and promoted caplets, which are more difficult to tamper with.
three key communication lessons for managing a crisis
The role of PR in a crisis cannot be understated
From the beginning of a crisis all the way through to the aftermath, the role of PR is critical. By helping businesses strategize the best course of action, dealing with the media, creating marketing plans, and arranging interviews, PR teams help organizations take control of the narrative surrounding the disaster and regain the trust of customers, stakeholders and investors.