Mention Public Relations and many people will think of the glitz and glamour, press conferences and other high profile events. This is a misconception.
PR involves managing information flow between an organization and its publics. There is plenty of hard work that goes into creating any perceived glamour and there are days when you actually feel physically drained!
Take for example the issue of crisis management. A crisis is usually an interlude of intense difficulty that poses a risk to the image/brand of the institution or company your agency represents. For the most part, a series of quick decisions have to be made and it is the job of the public relations team to protect the client’s reputation.
In the middle of the storm, the image of the company, its employees and other stakeholders rests on the shoulders of the PR team. If poorly handled, the crisis could make a transition from bad to worse. Being prepared is crucial. You cannot think of all the eventualities, but you can have a basic strategy in place to work with when a crisis hits.
This will involve gathering all the available information about the crisis. Fact-checking and aligning the facts to explain the circumstances then monitor all the emerging the trends the story is taking. In doing all this, the team can determine the most appropriate medium of communicating their response.
During a crisis, the main goal of a PR department would be to inform all interested parties about the current situation, potential risks, and planned actions. A well-prepared crisis plan should contain the first type of message that will be sent out to the public. The public relations and marketing team is the first line of defense for a company.
The unsaid rules of the game are that kindness and empathy should be portrayed at all times, because these present and restore confidence within the public. To avoid conflicting statements when handling the media, responses should be directed to a person who has been designated by the management of the organization. This eliminates the possibility of clashing narratives that make the situation even worse. You don’t want to have a crisis within another!
Not long ago, a leading telecom company in Uganda had a technical fault with their mobile money system. They were quick to apologize to the public through various digital platforms and explained that a broken fiber-optic cable was the cause of the disruption. In other words, any public fall-out was nipped in the bud.
This is a good example of crisis management. A positive rapport creates a more sympathetic public and helps maintain brand warmth because the company is caring and has apologized for any inconveniences caused.
Former US President Barack Obama recently tested positive for Covid-19. The world got to know about it through Obama’s Twitter account. There was no room for people to spread an alternative or false narrative. Within the Tweet, Obama emphasized his support for the vaccination saying his positive test was “a reminder to get vaccinated.”
Whenever possible PR teams should take advantage of a crisis and turn it into an opportunity, notably because it gives room for further interaction with clients/customers.
Pepsi is well known for creating some of the best ads in the marketing world featuring the world’s stars, either football players or actors and musicians. In April 2017, Pepsi kicked off a new ad campaign with a commercial starring Kendall Jenner, a model and actress. Over the next 48 hours, the ‘short film’ received nearly 1.6 million views on YouTube.
In this ad, the world was treated to Jenner leaving a modeling gig to “join the conversation” which she and her fellow marchers seem to “win” after she hands a police officer a Pepsi. The backlash was immediate and fierce, but in Pepsi’s defense, so was their crisis management.
The brand did initially release a statement defending their campaign by saying, “This is a global ad that reflects people from different walks of life coming together in a spirit of harmony, and we think that’s an important message to convey.”
However, less than 24 hours later the soft drinks company had pulled down the ad and paused the whole campaign. A second statement followed: ‘Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace, and understanding. Clearly, we missed the mark, and we apologize’.
Pepsi’s response was timely, empathetic, apologetic and straight forward. Pepsi was not ready for it, but according to its strategy, the interest of the customer is given first priority.