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How to Survive a PR Nightmare

by Anna McGeady

business public relations

Everybody makes mistakes. It’s how you respond to those mistakes that makes all the difference.

If you’re a public figure, chances are something you say is going to be criticized in one way or another. Every tweet, conversation or statement, whether leaked or deliberately made public, has the capacity to be scrutinized down to the word. And while everyone messes up from time to time, the reality is that people and/or companies of prominence really aren’t supposed to (at least as far as the public is concerned).

We turn to politicians, celebrities, even brands for all kinds of information, expecting them to have honest, accurate and consistent answers. But what happens when a person or organization violates the implicit trust we place in them? How does a company respond when when their behavior contradicts what they’re supposed to stand for?

We’re bringing you the top three survival tools to keep in mind as you navigate through those PR nightmares.

Own It

If you’re facing a crisis situation, it’s important to ditch the excuses and own up to it. Remember when United Airlines apologized for having to “re-accommodate” customers after a man was violently dragged off a plane? Their response lacked an acknowledgement of the situation’s gravity and made it seem as though they were simply trying to dust it under the rug.

Needless to say, the backlash only made matters worse. Had United come out the first time and offered a sincere apology, they likely would have avoided round two of that whole debacle. So when in doubt, own up to your mistakes.

Frame Your Apology Carefully

Nivea was under fire again earlier this year for promoting the wildly insensitive tagline “White Is Purity.” We say “again” because this not the first time Nivea has been criticized for a racially controversial campaign; in 2011, the company released an equally offensive ad. At that time, the company responded with the following statement:

“Current development and approval processes will be immediately reviewed in order to avoid any kind of future misleading interpretations.”

The issue with these kinds of blanket statements is that brands can’t always live up to them (as was the case for Nivea). What may seem like a positive assertion at the time can come back years later to haunt you, showing audiences that your promises are nothing more than empty words. During the 2017 Nivea crisis, that 2011 statement was dredged up again, further adding to the negative press and casting the company as both insensitive and incapable of following through on their promises.

If you’re going to come out and say you’re taking efforts to avoid any kind of similar mistake in the future, you better be sure you don’t make that same mistake twice. Otherwise you’re just digging your hole even deeper.

Keep Your Chin Up

Once you’ve owned up to your mistake and drafted a thoughtful, authentic public statement, it’s important to know when to move on. As hard as it may be to see the end of the tunnel in a PR crisis, the news won’t stay relevant forever and eventually the situation will dissipate.

If you find yourself in a crisis situation, keep calm and call your PR team. Chances are, the damage won’t be irreparable.

Want more PR insights? Be sure to follow us on Twitter @BIGfishPR to stay up to date on all the latest trends and news!

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BIGfish is an unconventional PR agency that helps its clients redefine their industries through thoughtful storytelling and strategic PR campaigns. By integrating traditional PR with social media and marketing support, BIGfish generates awareness and motivates consumer behavior.

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