Small Businesses: 5 Ways to Manage a PR Crisis

We all hear about it when major companies have a PR crisis. Chipotle had their now infamous crisis last year, Walmart has had several, and of course, McDonald’s has come under the gun for their food quality and prep practices. But, as a small business owner, what do you do when something like that happens to you? Here are 5 ways to manage a PR crisis:

Respond immediately

I’m not saying that you need to say everything you’re going to say right away, but you need to say something quickly. While it may not warrant a national (or even local) press release, just acknowledging that something is happening or has happened lets your voice be heard and becomes the quickest way to dispel any further rumors that might come up in the wake of a PR incident. Something as small as responding to a negative review of your business can do a world of good.

Be genuine

There’s nothing worse than a manufactured response, or finding out that the response given was one of many. Whatever you say immediately after a PR crisis comes to light needs to be genuine. Don’t promise anything you can’t actually do. Be sure to address the problem directly, and give any action steps that you know you can complete. Your audience will appreciate authenticity and this will minimize any further bad press.

Address the issue internally

I’ve written many times about how your employees are your most important brand advocates, and this type of incident is no different. Send out a business-wide email or have an employee meeting to address whatever the issue is. The same rules as above apply here too. Act quickly and be genuine; prepare your employees to answer any questions that might come their way.

It’s okay if you’re not comfortable being completely open-book about the issue with your employees (sometimes the less they know, the better), but you need to be honest about how the incident is going to affect the business moving forward, if at all, and how you plan to address it both publicly and privately. Doing the right thing from the inside out sets you up to come out of it positively.

Promote change

If your PR crisis warrants a change in business activities, products or services, etc., you need to actively talk about the changes that are going to be made (remember to make sure you can follow through). Chipotle had an entire campaign about their change in prep and food production processes, and offered free food to compensate. Slowly but surely, their reputation was restored. Take notes from how they handled things, and use it to your advantage.

Post actively about anything that might be “new and improved,” have a “grand re-opening,” and try a special promotion/discount for your customers. This way, customers you may have lost will be willing to give you another try, while you’re also rewarding those who stuck it out with you.

Move forward

Finally, after you’ve done all of the above, it’s time to move forward from your PR crisis. If you linger too long, or let it consume your business/marketing/customer service antics, you’re going to propel the issues rather than dispel them. What’s done is done, you’ve responded and made changes, and now you’re coming out of it better than ever. Set a positive example, and before you know it, it’ll be like nothing ever happened.