Managing Controversy in the Media with an Adaptive Communications Crisis Strategy




crisis strategy

As brand guardians, PR, external comms and marketing professionals need to get in front of good news fast and in front of bad news even faster. Social media has dramatically shortened the window of time organisations have to respond to reputation issues so it’s important to always monitor brand mentions and stay alerted to any controversy. So what’s the ideal scenario to respond to controversy in the media or deal with a PR crisis? The key is to have a pre-established and adaptive communications crisis strategy that you can apply to a multitude of scenarios.

So when you are faced with a stressful situation, you can turn to your plan to identify the best course of action, allowing you to respond swiftly and calmly to diffuse the situation ASAP and minimize negative impacts. 

In this blog, we’ll delve into 13 key crisis management steps you can easily incorporate into your communications crisis strategy to successfully navigate a brand crisis and safeguard a brand’s image. 

13 steps to follow for an effective communication crisis strategy 

1.Be Proactive – Monitor and Identify: 

The first step is not exactly a step, but an essential tactic to always include in your crisis management strategies. And it’s all about being proactive. You always need to keep a close eye on news, social media, and other channels to identify bad coverage early. But to do this effectively and streamline what would be a near-impossible, manual process, use tools that are designed to handle this. Media monitoring and social listening tools are the best aids to ensure you stay informed about any negative mentions or trends related to your brand. 

If you can establish a robust monitoring system to track news, social media, and other relevant channels, then you can catch potential issues early. With this insight, you can regularly assess potential risks and stay proactive by developing crisis scenarios that may arise. Your team will be even better equipped to manage a potential crisis as you follow the next steps. 

2.Assessment and Preparation: 

As much as we’d all like to be crisis-free, potential controversy and crises are inevitable in business. So it’s not a matter of “if” a crisis will hit you, but “when”. This is why it’s so important to be proactive with the media monitoring and social listening tools listed above so you can continuously monitor activity related to your brand.  

So when a crisis does strike, you’ll need a group of key stakeholders to act as the crisis management team. Your next step is to then run a full assessment of the situation and prepare the best course of action. This initial assessment and prep is vital as it lays the groundwork for when and how you and your team will move forward. 

Your group should ideally include legal experts to navigate potential legal ramifications, PR professionals to formulate a comprehensive communications crisis strategy, comms and brand specialists to align messaging with the brand’s values, and executive leaders to provide decisive guidance. Collaboration among these experts will ensure your approach considers various aspects of the crisis and paves the way for a well-coordinated and effective crisis management strategy. 

3.Craft a Consistent Transparent Message and Offer Solutions: 

People are more likely to trust a brand that does the right thing. In 2019, the Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report shared that 81% of consumers across the globe said they need to be able to trust the brand they buy from. And that need is rising with the increasing public interest in environmental, societal, and consumer health and safety issues.  

So when a crisis occurs, it’s important you plan an appropriate response and avoid vague or unapologetic statements, multiple contradictory statements, or display a lack of responsibility. 

You have an opportunity here to facilitate a stronger level of trust with consumers by addressing an issue with a transparent and empathetic message that acknowledges the problem. 

Your message should also be consistent across all communication channels to avoid confusion and build trust with stakeholders. This is why it’s specifically important that your response team is successfully communicating with one another to ensure everyone is communicating the same message. 

But mere acknowledgement isn’t enough. Depending on the situation, you’ll most likely need to offer solutions. You’ll want to be transparent about the concrete steps you’re taking to address the crisis and prevent its recurrence. Offering solutions will demonstrate your commitment to improvement and help regain trust. 

4.Choose the Right Communication Channels: 

At this point, you’ve established a great message to respond with and it’s time to communicate it to the public. But now is the important step of selecting the appropriate channels. Tailor your approach to suit the specific circumstances of the crisis and ensure you reach the correct audience. Depending on the severity of the crisis, you might want to issue a press release, publish an official statement on your website, hold a press conference, or leverage social media platforms to reach a wider audience.  

A PR and comms tool enables you to track and manage all outbound and inbound communications with the media. Additionally, you can store and manage the statements you would have crafted in the prior step so you can respond to media enquiries quickly and consistently. All within a single platform. This is a huge benefit to creating an adaptable communications crisis strategy as you can plan messages for various crisis scenarios in advance and turn to them when needed.  

On top of that, these capabilities will help your group drive team efficiency and save time. 

5.Be Quick but Ensure Accuracy: 

With consumers being tuned in to media and news at all times and info shared at lightning speeds across all social media platforms, it’s important that your crisis response time is quick to prevent further damage. A prompt reaction also demonstrates to your customers that you’re listening and committed to consumer happiness.  

However, hastily addressing a situation before preparing a thorough response plan as mentioned in the steps above, can escalate a problem further and damage credibility. So you need to find a delicate balance. Prioritise taking the necessary time to gather comprehensive data, consult experts, and assess the situation from all angles then act swiftly when you’re ready.  

The key to responding quickly is a pre-established and adaptable crisis strategy with easy-to-follow steps such as these, combined with PR and comms tools to further streamline the process. 

6.Identify and Amplify the Appropriate Spokespersons: 

Designate specific individuals as authorised spokespeople who can communicate on behalf of the company. These individuals should be well-versed in the situation, the response plan, and the company’s values. Consumers will connect with and trust a brand with a face more than they will a faceless brand. So this approach will help to foster transparent and trustworthy interactions with the public. 

It’s also important to remember here that a corporate brand’s reputation is directly impacted by and intertwined with a CEO’s personal brand. A vocal and visible CEO who’s relatable, authentic, and engaging can positively connect with the media, consumers, and other stakeholders. They’ll ultimately be a great lever in enhancing external comms if they can provide reassurance and leadership during a crisis. 

Learn more about how a CEO’s personal brand can impact corporate reputation. 

7.Turn to Social Media Platforms: 

As mentioned above, in today’s age, news and info are shared in the blink of an eye and misinformation spreads rapidly. Because of this, social media unfortunately holds the potential to amplify a crisis further. But you can also use social media to your advantage in your comms crisis strategy. Through your social channels, you can easily provide accurate info, updates on the situation’s progress, and respond to questions.  

You also have a valuable opportunity here to engage with users directly so this is an important addition to your response plan. 

With a social listening tool, you have the ability to streamline this process to save time and amplify your efforts. You can monitor mentions and other activities around your brand for full visibility and insights into where to direct your attention. And as mentioned previously, a PR and comms tool will enable you to craft and store messages so your responses remain consistent.  

8.Offline Communication and Media Outreach: 

While the online communication tactics mentioned above are essential in today’s digital age, you may not want to overlook traditional media outlets such as newspapers, television, and radio. If a crisis receives a significant amount of attention, these outlets can help you reach a broader audience outside of the digital landscape. By integrating both modern and traditional media tactics, you may maximise the impact of your comms with extensive coverage across various platforms. 

9.Engage with Critics Constructively: 

Across all forms of media, you’re most likely going to face criticism directed towards your brand. It’s essential to respond with understanding and respect to help defuse tension and engage with critics constructively to address their concerns and take responsibility where necessary. This can help to de-escalate the situation and potentially turn critics into allies. 

73% of consumers say a good experience is key in influencing their brand loyalties, demonstrating the high value of retaining positive customer service. You can find numerous additional stats shared by Forbes that prove the high value to be gained from retaining positive customer service experiences. So you can be sure that the time you spend on comms to boost your brand image and critics’ opinions of you will be time well spent with a significant ROI. 

10.Remain Transparent: 

Throughout all of your comms and outreach, you’ll need to remember to remain transparent. As mentioned previously, transparency is vitally important to consumers. Studies show this rings especially true for millennials and Gen Z consumers with a significant 79% of millennials and 74% of Gen Z, stating that company transparency is important to them in a 2022 study by NielsenIQ. 

On top of that, CM Group research reveals that 22% of Gen Z respondents reported that a lack of brand transparency will reduce their interest in a company’s products.  

And remember the value of a vocal and authentic CEO. As we’ve shared previously, a CEO who is perceived as distant, unapproachable, or out of touch may struggle to connect with audiences. And this can seriously harm your communications crisis strategy. 

Ultimately, your transparency with the situation will help build credibility, reassure the public that you’re actively managing a situation, and more than likely help retain customers. 

11.Analyse and Learn from the Crisis: 

Once the crisis is under control, it’s time to conduct a comprehensive analysis of how the situation unfolded, how it was managed, and the outcomes. Analysing the situation is a valuable opportunity to identify areas for improvement in your communications crisis strategy and incorporate these lessons into your future plans. 

12.Regaining Trust 

As mentioned above, consumers rank trust with product, brand, and company attributes as an essential buying consideration so it’s vital for your business to regain any lost trust. 67% of respondents in the Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report agree with the statement, “A good reputation may get me to try a product, but unless I come to trust the company behind the product, I will soon stop buying it.” 

Increasing trust in your brand is a valuable tactic that will help regain customer loyalty and in turn, boost profitability. And numerous studies show that customer loyalty is incredibly valuable to profits. 

Bain & Company, working with Earl Sasser of Harvard Business School, found that increasing the customer retention rate by 5% increases profits by 25% to 95%. The study also found that loyal customers tend to purchase more and frequently refer new customers to a supplier, offering a new profit source. 

With a social listening tool, you’ll be empowered with the ability to monitor all social media platforms including LinkedIn and TikTok, all within a single source. This will give you the valuable insights you need to build back consumer trust by understanding who’s talking about your brand, what’s being said, and what the sentiment behind those conversations is. 

13.Long-Term Reputation Management: 

Similar to trust, recovering a brand’s reputation isn’t an overnight process. So your final step in your communication crisis strategy is to build and maintain a long-term strategy for rebuilding your reputation through ongoing comms efforts, positive actions, and consistent engagement with stakeholders. 

Along with the media monitoring and social listening tools listed above, a reputation and brand insights tool will be a powerful resource here. It’ll provide you with the analytics and insights needed to uncover the key drivers of your brand reputation. Once you’re able to better understand your brand media profile, you’ll know how you benchmark against your sector and wider industry issues and themes that could impact your reputation. 

Remember, crises are opportunities for growth and learning – embrace them to showcase your organisation’s resilience and dedication to being a business they can trust.