Why PR crisis management is mandatory

On 21 September, 2022
7 min

A PR crisis is a scenario that no company wants to find itself in. What is a PR crisis exactly? It comes in all shapes and sizes but in essence, it can start with any negative comment or review related to a company that has gained traction and engagement from the public. A crisis management team is therefore essential as a PR crisis has the power to make or break a company. All businesses are vulnerable to a diverse range of unexpected threats. These threats can potentially harm the future of a company and most importantly its revenue. The key to successfully navigating a PR crisis is preparation. PR crises are not inevitable, but they can be avoidable. Implementing a good PR crisis management strategy can reduce the damage significantly and ideally transform the crisis into an opportunity for distributing a positive brand message. 

What is a PR crisis? 

As discussed, a PR crisis has the potential to significantly harm the public image of a company. However, the way in which the PR crisis is handled can also promote and reinforce the company’s image. Read on to discover some high-profile PR crisis management examples.

KFC Chicken Catastrophe 

The fast-food company KFC is a brilliant example of how they managed to turn a PR crisis into positive press. In 2018, the well-known fast food restaurant ran out of their main ingredient, chicken, due to supplier issues, in most of their UK and Ireland retail outlets. It resulted in them having to shut down many of their restaurants.However, the KFC PR crisis team managed to find the positive from the negative by turning this event into a humorous marketing strategy by admitting and recognizing their mistakes. By rearranging the lettering on their KFC chicken buckets to FCK and writing ‘we’re sorry’ underneath showed how they were owning up to what happened in a transparent way. They also maintained a strong social media community where customers could easily find updates to check the status of their local restaurants. Their PR crisis management strategy was strong and most importantly authentic.  

Nike Shoe Gate 

On February 20th, 2019, less than a minute into one of the most anticipated college basketball games in the US, Nike suffered a high-profile PR crisis. Zion Williamson, a star player for Duke, sprained his knee after his Nike PG 2.5 PE shoe burst open and split. Social media went crazy and started blasting Nike for making poor-quality shoes.

Even competing sports brands such as Puma jumped on the bandwagon to push their own products.  After the event, Nike’s stock fell 1.6% and lost approximately $1.5 billion in stockholder value the next trading day. Nike’s response was a traditional crisis management technique. They responded quickly by apologizing for their incident and reassuring customers that this one a one-off event. 

Fiat Love Letter Fiasco 

In 1994, Italian carmaker Fiat launched an extremely bizarre advertising campaign to convince the female population to purchase their latest model, the Fiat 500. This campaign certainly created a buzz that did not go in the right direction.

The carmaker decided to make their strategy extremely personal by not advertising on billboards or magazines but by sending 50,000 Spanish women letters with no branding or logos, just words. The letter read: “Yesterday we saw each other again. We met on the street, and I noticed how you glanced interestedly in my direction, I only need to be with you for a couple of minutes, and even if it doesn’t work out, I promise you won’t forget our little experience together.” With no understanding of where this letter had come from, thousands of innocent women were terrified of leaving the house, thinking they were being stalked. Many had to put up with jealous partners who had seen the letter.

A few days after the first letter had been received, the women were sent the official Fiat brochure but, in this case, it was too late. Fiat sent apology letters and faced several lawsuits thanks to a campaign that was designed to intrigue and evoke love between women and their cars. 

BlackRock’s fake annual letter

BlackRock, the world’s largest money manager and a respected and well-known fund, encountered fake news in the form of a fake annual letter from its chairman and CEO Larry Fink. This well-orchestrated scheme consisted in a fake letter that linked to an unofficial website copying BlackRock’s. The letter was even promoted through bought Google adwords. The Financial Times picked on the info with the following (memorable) headline: “BlackRock to dump companies failing to comply with Paris accords”. The hoax was only revealed hours later when the fund’s twitter account reacted with a short communication. Numerous reactions from diverse media sources reported on the incident, resulting in consequent visibility for the environmental activists’ cause.

What is the role of PR when a crisis happens to a company?

PR professionals play an essential role in PR crisis management. They craft and build a company’s image and work to maintaining its reputation and minimizing any negative feedback. When a crisis occurs, the PR team are on the frontline. They are ones the dealing with any type of PR crisis emergency. They decide who and what will be communicated to the media and how the crisis is handled internally. They are a critical part of any business and ensure smooth sailing during a PR storm. 

What effects can a PR crisis have on your business? 

In times of crisis, companies are at great risk of losing revenue, trust, reputation and control of their image and brand. It takes time and effort to build a strong brand reputation, so no company can afford to lose its credibility. One of the most negative effects of a PR crisis is losing consumer trust and loyalty. If customers are starting to doubt their decision about a brand or service, then PR crisis management is mandatory to gain back trust and reputation. 


What are the steps to handle a PR crisis? 

  • Find the problem and do not overreact 
    Manage the problem by taking responsibility. Instead of arguing the issue, acknowledge the public concern and react to the right conversations. 
  • React 
    Do not just sit back and watch the crisis unfold. Act and be proactive. In today’s world of social media, news travels fast. Do not stay silent. 
  • Strategize and brief the team 
    Inform the correct teams of employees about what is going on. Strategize together to find the best ways to react and handle the situation. 
  • Identify and address the situation 
    To be able to fix a problem you need to fully understand what the problem is. Make sure you have all the information necessary before addressing the situation. 
  • Prepare the message 
    Prepare your final plan of action and the message you want to communicate when addressing the PR crisis. Always be honest and own up to any mistakes made. 
  • Review and learn from the PR crisis 
    At the end of the day, everyone is human. Mistakes happen and they only help us learn and grow. Make sure to analyze why and how this PR crisis happened so it can be avoided in the future. 

How to avoid a PR crisis? 

A PR crisis can be avoided. Discover some basic PR crisis management rules below: 

  • Implement rules for content 
    Ideas can be thrilling, and companies can be eager to gain as much publicity as possible. Do not rush into execution. Make sure rules are implemented and any potential impact evaluated before content is published. 
  • Social media guidelines 
    Thanks to social media, a PR issue can be shared in milliseconds. Before posting or sharing anything online, make sure everything has been verified. Monitoring social media accounts and their activity is crucial. 
  • Proofread 
    Do not make silly mistakes. Make sure every piece of information being shared with the public is proofread by several people first. 
  • Do not be offensive 
    Research every possible outcome. Ask yourself if this message may be harmful to certain people or in certain countries?

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