The purpose of PR is to create mutual understanding between an organisation and its various publics. This understanding is created by building relationships with the public, and those relationships are the very thing you need when a crisis engulfs your business. For this reason, crisis management has everything to do with PR.
How to define a crisis
A crisis is an emergency, usually unforeseen or unexpected which threatens the hard-won reputation of a brand, business or organisation. Crises arise at short notice triggering a host of negative circumstances and consequences. Crises can involve or be precipitated by technological failures, product failures and recalls, data breaches, revelations of corporate malfeasance, in fact, anything that takes the shine off the brand and its status in the public view. To understand why PR is so important in Crisis management it’s good to understand the psychology of learning involved in opinion forming.
The brand relationship matrix above measures 2 key factors. What your public knows about you (cognition) on the vertical axis, and what the public feels about what they know about you (affect) on the horizontal axis. You will note that if the public knows a lot about you and feels good about what they know your brand will reside in the top right quadrant. You become a soul mate. The important thing about soul mates is that they are trusted, and even though they are not angels they are quickly forgiven and given another chance.
If the public knows less about you, but feel good about what they know about you, you’re placed in the box marked Ally. You’re considered friendly forces, who while not a soul mate still garner trust and, crucially, the opportunity to come back with a second chance.
Both Soulmate and ally status derive from positive knowledge about your brand and positive feelings or affect towards your brand.
Enemies and Aliens
You don’t want to be in the two left-hand quadrants. They are characterised by a lack of positive affect or feelings towards your brand and the worst place to be is the box marked Alien. People are always nervous of what they don’t know. They won’t try the brand, they’ll not engage with it because it is as if from a different planet, not a part of their reality. And it’s because they don’t know anything about it.
To become an enemy people must know something about you and feel bad about the information they hold on you. Again, a negative place to be in terms of your brand profile. Both are avoidable boxes by simply sharing the right information to change the public’s perception and back up the information with actions and demonstrated benefits accruing from your brand.
The matrix gives important tips about why and how PR can help you in crisis management situations.
How to use PR to build your crisis management plan
1. First build a relationship with your audience. Establish a positive relationship before a crisis blows up. If you’re an ally or a soulmate already, you have far more options to manage the crisis and maybe even deepen your relationships.
2. Stay in the upper part of the cognition (information) axis of the matrix. You do this by sending a steady stream of press releases and social media to send your key messages to your users and other publics. This is what builds the buffer and relationship should a crisis occur. PR is preventative and curative. Preventative in that it builds your reputation and profile in good times, and curative when a crisis blows up. Read our blog about the difference between proactive and reactive PR for more information.
3. Above all do not leave your publics knowing little about your brand, your mission, your value proposition, the problems you solve, and testimony of how you’ve been successful with your audience. All such stories played in the media keep your audience high in cognition of your brand and create positive feelings towards it.
4. When the crisis does occur, honesty, sincere concern for your clients and users, backed up by actions to make what went wrong right are crucial. All members of your team must know what your response is and be able to send the same message in personal communications as you put out as a company via press releases. Remember “Mea Culpa”- “Sorry we did not get this right” is the most disarming answer in a crisis. It brings the audience back on your side as they now focus on what you will do to make things right rather than what went wrong. It is difficult to do but the right thing to do.
So, PR in a sense has its greatest value in crisis management. But long before the crisis hits, you should be building your reputation and creating relationships that make you an ally or a soulmate of your audiences as equity against the rainy day a crisis strikes.
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Written by: Tetteh Kofi, Brand Ambassador for JournoLink
Tetteh is a broadcast journalist with credits on the BBC, ITN, LBC and Colourful Radio in news and current affairs. He published newspapers and has run training and crisis management programmes for multinationals and government agencies across Europe.