A badly handled crisis can have a negative impact on organisations for years, driving away customers and damaging brand reputation. As experts who specialise in creating and maintaining reputations, public relation professionals are often called upon to support an organisation when a crisis hits as they are knowledgeable in changing public perception.
Crises have been defined in a number of ways but most of them centre on the crisis itself being a low-probability, high-impact event that may threaten the viability of the organisation (Pearson & Clair, 1998). Accordingly, authors often point out that a central challenge for organisations in managing a crisis is that the crises are often ill-structured and complex in nature (Mitroff, Alpaslan, & Green, 2004).
What is the role of public relations professionals in crisis management?
The first thing any public relations (PR) expert will do in a crisis is assess the circumstances and offer bespoke advice on what the organisation should do to keep the problem under wraps. After an issue goes public, a PR expert will start to work more “reactively”. This means that they respond to what’s happening in the media and offer constantly updated advice on how to handle the situation. Once the dust has settled, after the initial crisis has passed, there will still be a lot of cleaning up to do before an organisation can regain its original reputation. This is the point where PR experts should start to develop plans to heal the damage that was done during the crisis.
The following are a few crisis communication tips that PR professional should follow:
In order to determine the appropriate response level, the crises management team must assess the crisis to determine the intensity and reach of the situation before communicating with audiences.
PR experts must aim at getting ahead of any negative news stories or social media post by issuing statements quickly. Take note, accuracy and consistency are key to avoiding response backlash.
In addition, the public safety is the number one concern when a crisis occurs, owing to that fact, organisations should see to it that the safety of customers, employees and anyone else impacted by the crisis is guaranteed.
Furthermore, employees can be strong representatives for the organisation when they are informed about the situation and are involved in all the processes, thus PR experts should ensure that a crises response system include messages towards specific employees.
Moreover, as a PR expert, you should ensure that a communication plan is in place to guide all your communication during a crisis, this should also include communicating via the organisation’s social media platforms.
In addition, PR experts should monitor news stories and social media posts during a crisis, develop and put strategies in place to ensure that negative social media posts or news reports are addressed.
A crisis is a time of intense difficulty or danger. However, as a PR expert, together with your crisis management team, ensure that a Crisis Management Plan in place seeks to respond to the crisis professionally so that the damages could be minimised and sometimes through prompt, constructive action, the organisation‘s reputation may even be enhanced.
*Albertina Kashuupulwa-Malwa is a communication and digital marketing professional. She writes in her personal capacity.