You wake up in the morning and check your phone—uh-oh, from the million-and-one messages, there must be trouble.
Undoubtedly something scandalous was done or said last night while you were asleep. Is it worth even going into the office today to fix it, or should you just shut down the business and flee to Bolivia?
No need to panic. These days, there are actually only a few PR scenarios that should elicit such a dire response. As long as you’ve conducted good public relations up to this point, the following “nightmares” really are just that: a scary dream you can wake up from.
Someone said something ridiculous
This one happens all the time: A CEO or other representative of a brand or company goes on a TV show (see Lululemon
) or is caught out at dinner and says something horrific. That person’s remarks cause a chain reaction of social media outrage, news reports, and calls to dismantle the company.
The thing about these disasters is they are easily forgotten if you follow the proper steps. If the employee or representative said something along the lines of “Hitler was right,” it’s probably best to just let that person go and apologize to the world.
If it’s something less heinous than that or was simply taken out of context, make sure to apologize, but also explain what the situation was. Though some may not believe you or might not be assuaged, this simple act will go a long way in placating most of the angry people.
Product broke or hurt someone
This one is all about having a solid business plan. Remember the poisoned Tylenol crisis
back in the ’80s? If handled improperly, it could’ve been a PR nightmare for Johnson & Johnson. However, instead of risking anything, it pulled its entire stock—31 million bottles—and introduced the safety seals you see today. Tylenol didn’t vanish.
Things happen, and people understand this. The only thing they won’t deem acceptable is if they feel that you’re being irresponsible. Not pulling their entire stock could have seemed irresponsible to Tylenol consumers and the public at large, so J&J did the right thing.
As long as you’re sincerely trying to fix the problem and you apologize profusely (and do your best to make it up to any injured parties), you should be fine. Just make sure you take all the accusations seriously.
Mix-up between social media accounts
You’re looking at your Twitter feed when suddenly one of your favorite brands, Super Serious National Bank, tweets out “time to get wasted breh!” You experience a period of cognitive dissonance during which you try to justify why a bank would be talking about getting wasted. Eventually you realize it was just a huge error on the operator’s end.
This happens occasionally; on rare occasions, something truly awful is said. For example, if the above tweet had been sent by the Betty Ford Clinic, that would not be a good day for that social media operator.
Something similar happened to the Red Cross a few years back. The PR pro who ran its Twitter feed accidentally tweeted about their evening out and what kind of beer they were drinking. Luckily the PR manager apologized and made light of the situation, so there was no harm. It actually led to more blood donations and an endorsement from the beer mentioned in the tweet.
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Honestly, just keeping your head is a big part of saving a situation from becoming a nightmare. Having a plan in place also helps.
What’s the biggest PR nightmare you’ve overcome, and how did you do it? Please let us know in the comments.
Mickie Kennedy is the founder of eReleases. A version of this article first appeared on the PR Fuel blog.