3 steps PR pros must take when a crisis breaks

When your organization makes headlines for the wrong reasons, it’s time to act. Here’s what communicators can do after disaster hits.

A PR crisis can spread online to millions within minutes.

How your organization responds is crucial. You must stop the bleeding immediately, or the damage can be apocalyptic. Here are tips for recovering from a public catastrophe:

1. Make a public apology.

Amid a PR nightmare, many business owners feel indignant, thinking the public condemnation is unfair, that the episode in question was not their fault, and that the blame should fall on an employee, a vendor or some other party.

Doubling down just makes things worse. Instead, make a heartfelt apology where the public can consume it. If you instead indicate you feel no guilt or responsibility, things can escalate.

2. Fix the problem.

Identify and address the source of the problem so it does not recur.

You might assume that firing an employee will suffice, but other factors could be involved.

Your training might fall short in showing employees how to maintain workplace cleanliness and safety. Control processes might prompt wrongdoing. Accountability may be missing.

Those deeper issues must be resolved to stem the damage to your business reputation.

3. Deploy reputation management.

Even if the problem in question has been resolved, the scars of a PR nightmare can remain for months or even years online. Negative stories, poor reviews and more can linger long after they have become irrelevant, and they will keep scaring away potential customers.

Reputation management takes various forms, including feedback found in social media, online reviews, negative news stories, comments in discussion boards and blog articles. Software programs can help you track and manage these things simultaneously so you can mend your reputation. Though it’s unethical, for example, to fabricate positive reviews, you can contact people who posted about negative experiences on review sites and try to correct their issues.

Rachael Murphey is a Denver-based entrepreneur who writes about business, marketing and personal finance.

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