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3 Questions to Ask Before a PR Crisis Situation

Pauline Makk

3 Questions to Ask Before a PR Crisis Situation by Pauline Makk on February 14th, 2020

Quick! Think of a stressful situation- running out of gas in the middle of nowhere? Having to give a surprise speech in front of a room full of important people? Or realizing that you forgot your wallet just as you get to the fancy restaurant that you booked months ago?

Now, what do all of these have in common? Their unpredictability. The unknown factor. Your usual cool and collected demeanour is suddenly destroyed. But have no fear; there are 3 proactive questions that you can ask yourself and your team before something happens to help ease a crisis and make it easier to get yourself back on track.

  1. What is our brand’s mission statement?

Every brand has an overarching set of values and a mission statement, which encompass their entire purpose. All employees should know and fully understand them to keep everyone on the same trajectory. To ensure that this message is well communicated, companies must refer to them frequently in company communication.

In 2018, Starbucks faced a looming PR crisis when a store in Philadelphia saw two men wrongfully arrested in an implicit bias incident. The company quickly stepped up to apologize, and soon closed more than 8,000 stores for employees to partake in racial bias training. Starbucks’ mission statement?

“To inspire and nurture the human spirit — one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.”

It’s clear that the PR executives at the company strongly understand and believe in that mission statement, which allowed them to make the costly, yet vital, decision to initiate the racial bias training.

See link for in-depth breakdown of the Starbucks crisis: https://www.fastcasual.com/blogs/starbucks-foundation-shakes-as-crisis-lingers/

  1. Who is involved, directly and indirectly?

Stakeholders need to be well known in every business environment- customers, investors, suppliers, clients, and so on. This is who would be affected by a PR situation and they need to be addressed immediately. Ensuring that no one gets missed in statements immediately following a crisis is crucial in order to minimize the shock.

At the 2016 Academy Award Ceremony, when the wrong “Best Picture” winner was announced, it shocked the entertainment world- causing confusion for all the nominees, audience members, and hosts. PwC, the company whose representatives wrongly switched the envelopes to the presenters, swiftly apologized to all the involved parties. Their official statement mentioned both nominated films involved in the mix-up, as well as the announcers, and the Oscar viewers.

Full PwC apology here: https://www.oscars.org/news/statement-pricewaterhousecoopers

  1. Who will speak on the company’s behalf?

When a crisis occurs, it’s understandable that many different people, especially leaders of the company, will want to release statements and information to the public. However, the messages may be contradicting if everyone has free reign to say what they want, when they want to. Ensuring that you have a crisis team in place beforehand, they will know how to work together to create a unified message.

Over the years, Facebook has faced various PR scandals and scrutiny; most recently with the Cambridge Analytica scandal. However, Facebook founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, has made it obvious that he is the central figure during any questioning. This minimizes the chance of any confusing statements from various executives.

For those interested, here is a deeper look into the entire Facebook- Cambridge Analytic scandal: https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/3/23/17151916/facebook-cambridge-analytica-trump-diagram

Order of Action during a Crisis:

  1. Have PR Response Team Ready- Your team should be comprised of those that have the strongest knowledge of the brand, able to work together, and already have all the tools they need to move effectively.
  2. Craft Unified Messaging- Once you understand all the intricacies of the blow-up, an executive decision needs to be taken to create a single message that the brand will communicate. This is integral to how the public will react- one thing that’s worse than the actual scandal is a brand that doesn’t stand firm on their plan of action.
  3. Decide on Means of Communication- Once the messaging has been devised, the updates need to be conveyed promptly- but how? If you are a social brand, all your social channels should relay the same information. If it is a more pertinent matter, e.g. public health related such as recalls, releasing information through journalists and news channels is a better option.
  4. Monitor, Monitor, Monitor- The real test of a PR response are the minutes and hours that follow the public statement, as that’s when the public will either appreciate the announcement or denounce the brand. This means that all hands need to be on deck; responding to positive feedback, criticisms, and directing people to the appropriate channels. It’s an exhausting time, but this step truly ensures that the community is pleased.
  5. Recoup and Review- Once the dust has settled, the entire team needs to sit down and debrief. Do not leave before everyone can answer questions like, “Why did this happen? Who was responsible? What do we need to do so this doesn’t happen again? What did we do that worked? What didn’t work?” These will allow the brand to brainstorm, truly understand the concern, and understand how to grow from it.


3 Bonus Tips for Handling a Crisis:

  1. Stay Calm: Taking a deep breath allows you to collect your thoughts and remember all the preparation that you did prior to a crisis.
  2. Gather all the Information: To ensure you make timely and educated moves, you should be able to answer “Who, what, when, where, why, and how” about the brewing situation.
  3. Move Fast: The public will want answers as soon as possible- especially when a situation can go viral in as fast as 24 hours thanks to social media! There’s truly no rest for the wicked!

These tools will give you the insight to prepare for a potential crisis and work your way through any PR emergency. I guarantee that this easy to follow checklist will make you feel much more at ease. There’s a reason why they say, “Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst”.

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