Public relations disasters can strike companies of all industries and sizes. Poor or lack of response to these crises can easily worsen existing situations and cause an even bigger pr scandal, like United’s $1.4 billion stock drop after the public learned about its forcible ejection of passenger on flight 3411. In order to maintain consistent positive company reputation, follow these 5 steps to navigate the storm.
Gather Facts – Before publishing any form of public response, make sure to complete research on all perspectives of the crisis and ensure that stories are thoroughly fact-checked. Remember that every story has multiple perspectives; take the time to investigate perspectives other than your own company’s to understand the complete picture. This also guarantees that the company will not backtrack or contradict any statements made during this crucial time.
Strategize – During a PR scandal, anything and everything released from the company will be scrutinized in the public eye. Ensure that all language and responses are well-constructed in order to fit and address affected parties. In United CEO Oscar Munoz’s first public response to the horrific video circulated online, he used “upsetting” to describe the violent event, completely disrespecting and belittling the hospitalized paying customer that United employees essentially instructed Chicago Airport Police to batter. In addition, Munoz also gave a half-hearted apology in the statement, stating that he “apologizes for having to re-accommodate customers”, completely failing to address the root of the problem that is violence.
Respond Fast – The first two steps must be done in a timely matter as a “no comment” from the company can be even worse than a bad comment during a pr scandal. As difficult and controversial as the crisis may be, the company must take a stand and make a statement if its reputation is on the line. Pepsi was very successful in its quick response to public outrage regarding its new controversial ad, releasing an apology in less than 24 hours after showing the advertisement. In the public apology, Pepsi defended the intended goals of the ad, “to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding”, and fully admitted its failure to do so.
Transparency – Exercise clarity and transparency in public responses. Be honest and admit to any mistakes that the company was involved in. Show compassion, respect, and care for your brand’s loyal customers. Remember that everybody (and every company) can make mistakes. Honesty is the key to forgiveness. In United CEO Munoz’s initial statement regarding flight 3411, his lack of compassion enraged the public further and worsened the existing situation. Had United learned a lesson from its predecessor, Pepsi, who genuinely apologized and promised to “pull the content and halt further rollout”, United would not face its current record-high level of backlash.
Follow Through – Lastly, keep all promises made during the crisis and follow through with recovery plans. Actions speak louder than words. Take actions that benefit the company while relating to the crisis. This is when the crisis may turn into positive publicity to benefit the company. Pepsi was very successful in promptly following through with their promise of removing the offensive advertisement. In United CEO’s newly released statement, Munoz mentioned that United will undergo “a thorough review of crew movement, our policies for incentivizing volunteers in these situations, how we handle oversold situations and an examination of how we partner with airport authorities and local law enforcement”. We can only hope that United policies will undergo a revolutionary change, eliminating the possibility of horror stories like this happening in the future.
PR scandals are inevitably a very stressful time for companies. On the bright side, no press is bad press! Follow these steps to recover from the scandal and create positive publicity for the company while it is in the spotlight.