Contributed by Eden Gillott, president of Gillott Communications, a crisis PR and bankruptcy communications firm. She participates in the Entrepreneurs’ Organization’s Accelerator program in Los Angeles.
It’s surprising, but there’s a spike in people and companies landing themselves in hot water around the holidays.
In prior years, it was mostly due to the added family-related pressure and drama that often accompanies the holidays. This year, it’s compounded with COVID fatigue, being separated from our loved ones and deep political divide. The added stress tests our systems, making us more prone to making poor judgment calls.
It doesn’t matter what business you run or the industry you’re in. At the end of the day, we’re all people, and people make mistakes. If you are the business owner or a key member of leadership, the buck stops with you.
Things that trigger a crisis PR response range widely and can result from internal or external factors. An employee leaks confidential information to a competitor or the media. Something inappropriate or dangerous slips through quality assurance and makes it into the stores or gets shipped to your customers. A brand ambassador or member of your leadership team says something that disparages or threatens an entire subculture. A strategic partner gets caught in their own scandal and drags you along simply by association.
While every situation is unique, some basic principles apply across the board when writing statements and issuing apologies after a crisis, incident, issue, slip-up, or whatever you want to call it.
Remember, you’re talking to real people, so make it personal.
Overly corporate and bland statements are so commonplace that they’ve lost their value. If you cut-and-paste your statement, and it could easily apply to a wide range of companies, it’s a sign that you’re heading down the wrong path.
Acknowledge the emotions and feelings of the people who were impacted.
You may not remember exactly how someone has wronged you in the past, but you almost certainly remember how you feel about it. In your statement, you don’t need to come straight out and name the range of emotions, but thinking about it from their perspective is a good starting point in figuring out how (or if) you’re going to be able to rebuild trust.
If you messed up, own it.
A “sorry!” immediately followed with an excuse negates the whole response. Even worse, your excuses could cause an even bigger PR problem because you’ll look like you’re only sorry you got caught.
Show that you’re doing something about the situation.
What have you done or will be doing to fix it? Don’t wait until everything is resolved to issue something because it may take weeks, months, or sometimes years. It doesn’t need to be a laundry list of every step you’re taking, but letting people know that you aren’t just sitting around waiting for everyone’s attention to turn elsewhere goes a long way. And if you haven’t taken any actions yet, you better get to it!
In some instances, saying nothing at all is the best path forward.
As a business owner, when someone starts spreading nasty comments about your brand online, it can feel like a direct attack on you as a person. It’s understandable to want to protect your business and your reputation by replying to comments or posts. But it’s crucial to take a step back and have someone who doesn’t have skin in the game look at the situation objectively. This could be your Forum members, your attorney, or someone else outside your company or family. If you’re unable to find someone, you’re better off saying nothing because the risks of you making the situation worse are much higher than the potential upside of you arguing with people on the Internet.
Eden Gillott is president of Gillott Communications, a crisis PR and bankruptcy communications firm. She’s the author of A Business Owner’s Guide to Crisis PR: Protecting You & Your Business’ Reputation. She participates in EO’s Accelerator program in Los Angeles, California and also sits on the EO Los Angeles Accelerator Board.