How can public relations be used to manage a crisis?


A crisis may hit any company at any time. How the company deals with a crisis can make or break it. There are many unexpected threats and these could severely damage not just your reputation but also have a very negative impact on customer acquisition and loyalty, revenue and so on. This is where a good PR agency can step in and help to contain the damage and also work on rectifying the damage to the brand image.

A PR agency strong in crisis communications can do miracles during times of need! They could create a crisis management strategy that deflects attention from the crisis. It would also use a step-by-step approach to resolving the crisis and getting back to business as usual. Read on to see what can be done and also earn from case studies.


Crisis can be of many different kinds, it could range from a defective product that has hurt someone, a lawsuit, a fall in the stock value, accidents, recalls, sexual misconduct, financial irregularities, government related issues, protests by activists for a certain issue and so much more. You might find your company or brand at the receiving end of harsh social media backlash and bad press. It is at this low point that you need a good PR agency by your side.


Why face disaster when you can prevent it? It’s always good to keep your antenna up when it comes to news and views that are circulating about your brand especially on social media. Ask your PR team also to keep close tabs on this. In many cases, this has helped companies actually prevent bad news from breaking out in a big way causing damage and resolved it before it leaked out. Being well-informed is being smart.


In today’s world, the use of AI is gaining great credence. This not only helps you spot early warning signs of an impending disaster, it may even help you avoid it. Make sure social listening is part of your initiative. Now, what does that mean? Social listening refers to the process of companies paying attention to what consumers are discussing across multiple online communities. This really helps businesses gather important data on customer sentiment towards their brand and industry. Social monitoring is useful in not only tracking and correcting short-term customer service issues, but also managing crisis. There are many different kinds of software and tools to help with AI.


Preparation is the key to handling any kind of crisis. Do not wait until disaster strikes to make out your crisis plan. Consult your PR agency and keep a PR crisis plan ready. Decide who the spokesperson will be in a time of crisis and who the alternative would be too. Your PR agency will also help in briefing the spokesperson on how to communicate right to the press. A swift response to the press is very important, after all it’s they who become the medium to convey your messages to consumers and stakeholders.


In a crisis, don’t panic. This is the time when both internal and external audiences will seek answers from the company’s management team. Take help from PR professionals to provide crisis management public relations training. This will equip them with the ammunition that they need to intelligently respond during a crisis and mitigate damage to your company.


When a crisis hits, it’s important that the brand does some introspection. Would this PR crisis having an immediate impact on business? Will it have a future impact on the business? Before you react, it’s important to know how your decisions will impact the business, revenue and your brand reputation.  This step will be very important as you begin to make decisions on messaging and your overall corporate stance on the crisis.


When a crisis hits, it’s also important to assess the level of damage. Get all the facts on the table. Chalk out the reaction to the crisis after you have adequate information on the situation. However, get this done swiftly.


When a crisis breaks out, acknowledge the crisis and take responsibility for it. Reacting immediately, and responding to feedback is not just mature, it helps your brand to be seen more responsibly. Instead of arguing publicly and trying to get defensive, accept your mistake if there was one and then apologize.


In times of crisis, one may be tempted to respond to tough questions by saying, “No comments.” However, it’s important that you do not take this escapist route. When you do not communicate, there is the tendency for people to draw their own conclusions and these may not be in your favour at all! Let your PR agency help you with drafting every piece of communication, make sure that you stay authentic and transparent.

It will be able to work in alignment with your company and create an official statement which outlines the steps being taken to resolve the crisis besides any responses to the media. Constant communication is the need of the hour during a crisis. A public relations specialist can step in and help convey the message you want in a refined way that will work better in the company’s favor.

A case study involving Odwalla’s unpasteurized apple juice in 1996 in the USA is one of the worst nightmares a brand could face. It has E.Coli and having consumed this product, one child died and over 60 people took ill and 20 lawsuits were filled.  Worst of all, the entire range of of Odwalla’s apple and carrot products were recalled which happened at a whopping cost of $6.5 million.

CEO Stephen Williamson stepped in and took charge, he promised to pay all medical costs. The company then worked hard on its PR for the next few months. It took out full page ads in newspapers to explain the situation. It was very tough but ultimately Coca-Cola bought out Odwalla Foods for $186 million in 2001.


Statements that are bland such as saying “you’ll look into it” for instance does not help the person or organization at the other end feel any better. The better response would be to say that you’re deeply saddened by what happened and will sincerely work to make things better. Make sure you walk the talk and put in policies that ensure the crisis is not repeated.

Here’s a fine example. In 2015, there was news about a German Wings plane crashing. The worst part about the tragedy was that this was a deliberate crash by pilot Andreas Lubitz, who suffered from depression. CEO of Lufthansa, Carsten Sphor was immediate with his reaction. He promised to ensure that pilots are fully checked in all major aspects of health and also empathised with the sentiments of the families involved.


Today, the media has a fast-paced, 24-hour news cycle and even the slightest delay in communication can go against your brand. For instance, take the case of product recalls. Once customers get wind of recall, it’s important that you explain what happened and go forward to reassure them so that trust is not lost.

It would make even better sense if you can reach them directly, even before the industry, press or local media get the news. This will reiterate the trust your customers have in you by showing that you have nothing to hide.


Today, there is a wide variety of communication channels that you can use to reach out. The company website, blog besides a variety of social media platforms are ideal methods of getting your message across. Make sure that regular updates and responses are being constantly pushed out until the issue has settled. Your PR agency will help in crafting these so that the messages sent out are well-written and convey the right kind of content. The more channels you use, the greater your reach will be and the quicker the recovery from damage to the reputation.


One of the major problems are that a crisis continues to reflect in Google search results, sometimes for years to come. This can be quite tiresome and negative for your brand. Now, how do you fight this? What you need to do is initiate and execute a full-length content marketing campaign which will include elements such as blogging and contributing articles to third-party sites using your name. You can also ask your PR agency to run a campaign that will get your brand featured in a positive way by reporters and news organizations.


You’ll be surprised at how effectively the power of influencers can work in helping to mitigate the negative effects of a crisis. However, influencer relationships cannot be made overnight. You need to work at having these in place before a crisis hits. Influencers are not just capable of pushing revenue and sales but can also help in getting you valuable conversations and content which can transform the way your brand is perceived.

Here’s a very successful case study. Around 2003-04, some of you might remember that Cadbury had got mighty bad press about a worm found in a pack. They made a smart move and hired Amitabh Bachchan who went on to become the face audience trusted and this helped in tiding over the crisis.


When you are in the market, it’s important to respect market sentiments, even when the tide is against you. Look carefully and introspect if any damage has been done by your brand and if so, do not hesitate to apologize. Use your PR agency to take forward this heartfelt apology. After this, take action to make amends.

Here’s how one of the world’s biggest brands, Pepsi handled this. What had happened was that in April 2017, Pepsi launched a new ad campaign with a commercial starring Kendall Jenner. In just  48 hours, this “short film” received almost 1.6 million views on YouTube. The film shows Jenner leaving a modeling gig and moving on to “join the conversation.”  After this,  the commercial shows that she and her fellow marchers seem to “win” once she gives the police officer a Pepsi. There was a huge backlash to this ad.

How did Pepsi handle this? It’s interesting to see how they did it. Their first response was a statement where they defended their campaign saying, “This is a global ad that reflects people from different walks of life coming together in a spirit of harmony, and we think that’s an important message to convey.” On second thoughts, they changed tracks. In less than 24 hours, they pulled out the ad and paused the full campaign. Following this, they issued a second press response that stated, “Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace, and understanding. Clearly, we missed the mark, and we apologize.”

Another case study worth looking at is that of KFC. In February 2018, the brand had to close over  half of its 900 stores in the United Kingdom due to a shortage of chicken. This was because it had shifted to DHL. Upset customers vented their anger on social media and some even went to the extent of complaining to local politicians. Once the issue was resolved and stores reopened , KFC ran an apology advertisement which was extremely funny  and also took responsibility for the problem.


Once the issue dies down, work towards going forward. Create a whole new positive PR campaign. No one ever wants a PR crisis pop up, however, it’s important to get the best out of it. No matter what happens, the outcome is that you will learn something valuable. This will help your company learn and understand how to avoid future crisis.