Damage Control Tips: Before the Crisis

In public relations, nothing moves faster than bad news. If you’ve never been caught in a PR snag, just give it a little time; it’s an inevitable piece of business growth. Can you think of a major business that hasn’t experienced its share of negative press?

A crisis comes all wrapped up in many shapes and sizes. Blistering customer reviews, defective products, terrible customer experiences, rude employees, and security breaches all leave you vulnerable to public backlash in today's interconnected world, and the negative press will spread at the speed of tweet. Though the nature of a business crisis can vary, consider these points to prepare for the worse.

First, plan your strategy with a cool head. If you’re thinking of ways to solve a crisis during the crisis, you’re bound to make things messier. Sit down with your team on a sunny morning when everything seems right with the world, think of worse case scenarios, and craft responses appropriate to the situation. In some circles you'd call this a red team exercise.

At minimum, your plan should address the following:

  • What is the specific problem?
  • How can this problem deteriorate into something worse, and what can feasibly be done to prevent that?
  • What can be done in the first 24 hours to address the situation?
  • What can be done in the next 72 hours to begin recovering from it?
  • Who is qualified to take the lead on fixing the issue?
  • Who will be the point person for communication with the public?
  • In order of priority, who needs to be notified of the problem?
  • How will they be informed?
  • What is the main point you want these key stakeholders to take away?

Second, get in Front of the Story. Not all crises are unforeseen. If you know something’s about to explode, preempt the backlash by getting ahead of the problem with a brief explanatory statement. Control the message at the outset before someone else controls it for you. Think about it. Do you have competitors that could leverage this setback against you?

Finally, remember everyone needs to be on board. Leaks are sadly inevitable. It's basic math: The more people know, the more likely it is to spill. If the White House can’t keep a full lid, an NDA will only go so far. Therefore, gather everyone down to the greenest intern and make sure you’re singing from the same hymnbook.

Whatever the damage control plan, make sure everyone knows it as well as they know their fire safety drills.

In the weeks after Target's major security breach it was reported that at least six other merchants had been hacked. Let's hope your business never experiences a PR nightmare on that scale, but if you do, at least you'll have the strong beginnings of a plan to confront it.

If you’ve survived a P”R nightmare before and can pass along tips to your fellow entrepreneurs, please share in the comments!

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