How to Protect Your Brand in a PR Crisis



Posted: In: Blogs

This month, AirPR hosted the webinar “How to Protect Your Brand in a PR Crisis.” AirPR Co-founder Sharam Fouladgar-Mercer and Brain + Trust Partners CEO Scott Monty shared thoughts on what questions to ask during a PR crisis, who in your company do you need to get involved during a PR crisis, how to have the appropriate systems in place in advance, how to leverage data during a crisis, and what tools will help. Moderated by Heidi Sullivan, President of HKSully Consulting, the webinar outlined best practices in the New PR world of rapid-response and all-way communication.

From Facebook to Starbucks, no brand is safe from a communications crisis. How and when your brand responds to the press is crucial to saving your brand’s reputation. Today, unlike the days of sending a mass email with your statement to hundreds of journalists hoping for your message to stick, brands can use data to strategically craft their message by analyzing the right data points.

How crisis communications has changed

Heidi kicked off the webinar by highlighting how social media has fundamentally changed crisis situations from two-way feedback to all-way, rapid response conversations. A crisis can accelerate more rapidly and responses from your brand need to occur quickly.

She also shared that in today’s New PR world, there are four key elements in building your crisis strategy:

  • Have a crisis plan in place
  • Understand your audience
  • Utilize data to understand and analyze the situation
  • Respond quickly and transparently

Heidi highlighted a crisis campaign that combined paid, earned and owned efforts. KFC went through a highly publicized, somewhat bizarre crisis in the U.K. earlier this year: The fast food restaurant known for its fried chicken ran out of chicken. KFC is apologized with a creative stunt: rearranging its name to spell “FCK” in a full-page ad in top newspapers. Additionally, KFC set up a website letting fans know where the closest open store was located. By understanding their audience and responding quickly and transparently, KFC mitigated the crisis until chicken delivery was back on track.  

Companies in crisis: A case study in navigating treacherous waters

Scott highlighted major brand crises like Volkswagen, Tylenol and Facebook to describe how a crisis can quickly spiral out of control in the world on New PR. He then went through the story of Ernest Shackleton, an explorer whose aim in the early 1900s was to build a team and be the first to complete a Trans-Antarctic expedition. Although the team experienced significant crises and challenges, Shackleton knew that his greatest enemies were high levels of anxiety and disengagement and managed the team. He eventually completed the expedition and did not lose a single crewmember – polar historians regard the voyage as one of the greatest small-boat journeys ever completed.

Scott then outlined seven universal crisis principles that we can learn from Shackleton:

  • Be prepared to dig in and go the distance
  • Keep your focus on the future
  • As the situation changes, change your course
  • Assign roles
  • Be flexible
  • Pick your point people well
  • Have the right tools

How to leverage data during a crisis and which tools can help

Sharam began by describing how the New PR World impacts a crisis. The shift from traditional PR to the New PR World has created both new challenges and opportunities in a time of crisis. Data and AI are required in a world of continuous messaging. Instead of the traditional method of reaching out to journalists with messaging, conversations happen throughout a crisis in myriad formats. By utilizing data and tools, PR pros can plan and respond quickly in a crisis.

He then discussed the five elements of the crisis data cycle:

  • Listen: Implement & Validate media monitoring & measurement ahead of time
  • Filter: Utilize AI tools to filter out noise and identify the most influential authors, articles and publishers during a crisis
  • Respond: Quickly respond to crisis mentions and utilize campaign tool to track results
  • Measure: Monitor and measure results in near real-time to track the situation
  • Analyze: Use data tools to assess your response results and pivot quickly

In closing, Sharam outlined three ways that data can help tell the story in a crisis:

  • Aggregate content and identify trends
  • Use monitoring and measurement as your early warning system
  • Act quickly and apologize if necessary

In a time of crisis, CEOs need to act decisively and quickly with transparent responses in today’s rapidly moving media landscape. Utilizing data and AI technologies to assess the situation can provide insights into how to respond and allow CEOs to make data-driven decisions.

It’s vitally important to have media and social monitoring tools in place with regular alerts so that you know immediately when news hits and a crisis starts to bubble to the surface. In addition to monitoring, however, new technologies like AirPR Software’s Analyst Platform now allow us to aggregate content and identify trends – without reading every article and tweet.

Sharam Fouladgar-Mercer is the Co-Founder of AirPR. He was an Entrepreneur in Residence at Shasta Ventures focused on consumer internet and the social graph. Prior to joining Shasta, Sharam was a Senior Associate at Sierra Ventures and on the Board of Makara (acquired by Red Hat) and TouchCommerce (acquired by Nuance), and a Technologist at Appian.

Scott Monty is an internationally recognized Fortune 10 leader. As CEO and co-managing partner of Brain+Trust Partners, he addresses and advises businesses and groups on how to move at the speed of customers. Scott spent six years as an executive at Ford Motor Company, as a strategic adviser on crisis communications, influencer relations, marketing, customer service, innovative product launches and more. He also has another decade and a half of experience in communications and marketing agencies. Scott’s clients have included Walmart, IBM, Reebok, Coca-Cola, and Google, and The Economist ranked him as #1 atop the list of 25 Social Business Leaders.