View from within a Bristol PR agency: Crisis management

Our Bristol-based PR agency works with local, national, and international clients across a variety of sectors including health, NGOs, and cyber security.

It’s great to celebrate the good news regarding brand, service, and product launches, however, in the dynamic landscapes of today's business world, uncertainties and challenges are inevitable, so this is where a PR agency with crisis management experience becomes a powerful ally. 

A crisis, whether it be a natural disaster, a product recall, or a reputational issue, can pose significant threats to an organisation's stability and public image. In such critical moments, the strategic application of public relations becomes a linchpin for navigating through turbulent waters.

Our agency, Oggadoon, has been drafted in on several occasions to support clients when they may have been catapulted into the press spotlight due to a negative occurrence. This may be a negative review of a service, a product or just a negative connection via association.  It is important not to bury one’s head in the sand. Look at the facts, the impact and sentiments and make a plan, be factual and most importantly honesty should be a non-negotiable.

In a breaking news environment, the media are hungry for the key details of the story. They want to be the first to break the news and are keen to get exclusive interviews. They are also keen to put a sensational spin on news, so it’s important to keep to the facts and note that everything is on record.

During our work, we are extremely mindful of managing the sensitivity of both our client’s situation and the impact of the situation whilst it is in the media spotlight. We did this whilst supporting the Presidium Network managing the global press desk to support the crisis work, they were doing with captured volunteers in Ukraine.

We liaised with the breaking news media, and set up direct press interviews in countries such as France, the US and Ukraine.  The story and main messaging were also picked up in 23 countries as reprint articles. We guided our client throughout, working and updating key messaging all the way through to interview techniques.

PR is of paramount importance in crisis management, as it helps shape perceptions, preserves trust, and plays a pivotal role in the overall resilience and recovery of an organisation or individual.

The role of PR in crisis management

Public relations (PR) is crucial during a crisis for several reasons:

Managing perception

In times of crisis, public perception can be volatile. Effective PR helps manage and shape public perception by providing accurate information, addressing concerns, and maintaining transparency. It helps to control the narrative surrounding the crisis. A plan of action needs to be made. Key factual messages need to be communicated and adjusted based on the evolving situation.

Maintaining trust

Trust is a key element in any relationship, including the one between an organisation and its stakeholders. A crisis can erode trust quickly, and PR efforts aim to rebuild and maintain trust by demonstrating transparency, accountability, and a commitment to resolving the issue. For example, in a product recall situation, we’d advise the best and quickest way to communicate the details of the product recall to the public. This would include the reasons for the recall, potential risks, and steps being taken to address the issue.

Communication control

In a crisis, misinformation and rumours can spread rapidly. A PR agency plays a vital role in controlling the communication channels, ensuring that accurate and timely information is disseminated to the public, employees, and other stakeholders. This helps prevent the spread of false information that could further damage the organisation's reputation.

Crafting well-prepared statements and key messages in advance of any interview is paramount. Breaking news scenarios can feel quite stressful. Preparation helps to ensure that all communications align with the organisation's strategy. These documents serve as a guide for spokespeople, minimising the chances of miscommunication during a crisis.

Legal and regulatory compliance

Crises often involve legal and regulatory implications. PR professionals work closely with legal teams to ensure that communication aligns with legal guidelines and regulatory requirements. This helps in managing potential legal ramifications and maintaining the organisation's credibility.

Communications must be truthful, accurate, and not misleading. Making false statements or providing inaccurate information during a crisis can lead to legal repercussions and damage the organisation's reputation. Just read a little more about the Post Office Horizon scandal, which is a great example of how not to do things.

Employee morale

Employees are critical stakeholders during a crisis. PR efforts are essential for maintaining internal communication, keeping employees informed, addressing their concerns, and ensuring their morale remains stable. Engaged and informed employees can contribute positively to the overall crisis management efforts. It’s so important to provide regular updates on an evolving situation. Timely information helps employees stay informed and reduces anxiety associated with uncertainty.

Preserving reputation

A crisis can have long-lasting effects on an organisation's reputation. PR is instrumental in developing and implementing strategies to preserve and rebuild the organisation's reputation. This involves not only addressing the immediate crisis but also planning for the long-term impact on public perception. This needs to be part of future brand-building campaigns, implemented into the wider strategy.

Stakeholder relations

Organisations have various stakeholders, including customers, investors, suppliers, and the community. Effective PR helps manage relationships with these stakeholders by keeping them informed, addressing their concerns, and demonstrating a commitment to resolving the crisis. Stakeholders who trust an organisation are more likely to be understanding and supportive during challenging times. Strong relationships established through effective communication can build and maintain this trust.

Demonstrating responsibility

A crisis often requires an organisation to take responsibility for the situation and show a commitment to resolving the issues at hand. PR efforts help convey this responsibility to the public, showcasing the organisation's dedication to ethical behaviour and accountability. A key example here is how Fujitsu, following the Post Office scandal admitted it has a 'moral obligation' to compensate Post Office victims.

The value of PR

The top five ways we usually measure the return on investment (ROI) include circulation, advertising value equivalent (AVE), impressions, referrals or conversion tracking - we have written about this in detail here. However, when it comes to crisis management it is worth so much more.

Utilising PR research during crises provides insights into public sentiment and the evolving narrative, enabling a proactive and informed response.

Real-time monitoring and analysis is crucial. Continuously track media mentions, social media conversations, and stakeholder feedback. The data is analysed to gauge public sentiment, identify misinformation, and understand key concerns.

This information is then used to craft transparent, empathetic, and timely communications that address the heart of the issue, rebuild trust, and restore brand reputation. This whole process demonstrates the value of PR in a crisis. Further research can be done on stakeholder sentiment following the crisis.

Crisis communications

PR is essential during a crisis to manage perception, maintain trust, control communication, address legal and regulatory considerations, uphold employee morale, preserve reputation, and manage relationships with various stakeholders. It plays a pivotal role in helping organisations navigate through challenging times and emerge with their reputation intact.

The power of reviews

Reviews can play a pivotal role in the aftermath of a crisis, serving as a valuable tool for organisations to rebuild trust, assess the impact of the crisis on their reputation, and demonstrate commitment to improvement.