Don't panic! How to handle a crisis

Don't panic! How to handle a crisis image
Our crisis communications hotline (which we manage for the Federation of Small Business) has been very busy this month so we thought we’d share some advice which we hope you find of use.

Don’t panic! 

If you find yourself on the receiving end of poor publicity in the press or negative commentary on social media, take a deep breath before doing anything else.

Even in well managed businesses, things sometimes go wrong.  Before the digital age, disgruntled customers or employees would contact a newspaper in the hope a journalist would run a story to highlight their grievances.  Now, citizen journalism rules and the reputation of a company can be damaged with just a few posts on social media.

The ultimate aim of crisis communications is to protect the reputation of your company by minimizing any negative publicity – whether it’s in a newspaper, social media or a review site such as TripAdvisor, Google Reviews, Trust Pilot, CheckATrade or Glassdoor.

Although every situation is unique - and should be handled with a tailored response - there are a few golden rules to follow:

If you are contacted by a journalist:

  • Take their call.
  • Be co-operative.
  • Establish what information they’re after.
  • Ask about their deadline.
  • Say you will call them back when you have all the facts.
  • If you are comfortable doing so, call them.

If you are on the receiving end of negative social media posts:

  • Aim to take things ‘off line’ by acknowledging their post and asking them to direct message (DM) you or contact you with details of their issue.
  • If this doesn’t work and you continue to receive a barrage of negative comments, call us.

If your company is regularly on the receiving end of public complaints from unhappy customers, it might be worth appointing an agency such as RMS on a retained basis (not to mention on speed dial) to handle these situations quickly and efficiently. 

Alternatively, you might benefit from one of our crisis comms workshops, where we’ll work with you and key stakeholders to identify all the possible scenarios that might negatively affect your business, before drafting prepared statements and a roadmap of how each situation should be handled by your internal team so you’re never caught on the backfoot.

Our crisis comms team is on hand to support you in a number of ways: 

  • Handling media enquiries and liaising with journalists on your behalf
  • Drafting statements for media, your website and social media
  • Briefing you about handling media interviews
  • Helping you brief your staff
  • Drafting press releases
  • Drafting letters to your customers
  • and anything else that is appropriate to the situation – they are all different 

Over the years, dozens of businesses have benefitted from our advice.  Here are a few situations where we’ve helped minimise negative publicity and protected the reputation of the businesses involved:

  • The owner of a care home got in touch because someone in their care was missing and the family was ‘kicking off’.
  • The managing partner of a small accountancy practice contacted us because one of his partners was due to appear in court on drink driving charges and was petrified it would be reported.
  • A temporary staff agency owner was concerned because staff had threatened to go to the media about non-payment of wages.
  • A company owner wanted to know what to do when an ex-employee started contacting her customers and spreading malicious rumours.
  • A journalist contacted a company after receiving complaints about a poor quality product. The company owner then called us.
  • A managing director had to make staff cuts and was concerned the redundant staff would take to social media and go to the press.
  • The owner of an executive dating agency was petrified her 30-year old business would collapse after one unhappy client went to the national press to complain that she hadn’t found love.
  • A property owner needed help when local home owners staged a demonstration against the business occupying one of his units.
  • A dog walker was turned into ‘public enemy number one’ after a dog under her care ran off and couldn’t be found.

Being on the receiving end of criticism and negative commentary can be incredibly upsetting, especially when it’s unfair.  The impulse to respond emotionally can be overwhelming but this can often inflame a situation so …

Step back, take a deep breath and get in touch with our crisis comms team.  Above all else, don’t panic!