FIND YOURSELF IN A PR CRISIS? HERE’S HOW TO FIX IT.
The last couple of years have seen a tabloid’s worth of scandals hit Austin. And guess what—no one is immune. “Any business or individual can have a crisis,” says Brenda Thompson, a communications expert who has worked with Kerbey Lane and other local companies. While each case is unique, there are some general rules for damage control. Follow these tips if you ever find yourself in a sticky situation.
Having a crisis management plan in place and everyone on board with it is key to saving face. “Envision every scenario you can,” says Thompson. “It’s part of preserving your reputation, knowing who’s going to do what, like who’s going to monitor social media and who’s out correcting facts.”
Act fast, even if it’s just acknowledging the situation. “People freak out under pressure, and they delay responding to media or through social media platforms until they have all the facts. But that’s deadly in our current culture,” says Katherine McLane, who worked at Livestrong before founding strategic communications firm Mach 1 in ’13. “The rule on timing is: Respond as quickly as you humanly can.”
Get It All Out
Don’t let someone else tell your story, says Darius Fisher, president of online reputation management firm Status Labs, who found himself in hot water when his business partner demolished an East Austin piñata shop last year. He advises avoiding “the drip, drip” of slowly leaked information by releasing all the facts you have. “Once you get it out there, you can move on from it,” he says.
It never hurts to say you’re sorry. “Everyone gets graded on their apology,” says McLane. “My rule of thumb is, if an apology is necessary, take it on the chin one time.” Then show the steps you’re taking to repair the damage. “People are far more willing to move on from that kind of controversy with some goodwill toward your brand if you’re sincere,” McLane adds.
Fix the Problem
Take stock of what caused the crisis to avoid repeat offenses. Was it a problem within the business or the individual that can be fixed, or simply a mistake? The point is, Fisher says, “if you’re not changing from mistakes you’ve made, you’re going to make them again.”
Change the Focus
Once things have quieted down, work on a new story for you or your company. “That is potentially the most important period of all, how you shift the attention toward the future,” says McLane. “If you have something new to offer, put the spotlight on that.”
The Shame Game
Five notable scandals to hit Austin
Days after opening St. Philip in October 2014, Chef Philip Speer was arrested for DUI, which was caught on camera by a local TV affiliate’s camera crew. Speer was sentenced to 10 days in jail and seven years probation. The restaurant has since closed.
In December 2014, after Twitter users chided Strange Fruit PR for having the same name as the title of a Billie Holiday song about the lynching of black men, the owners apologized for their bad judgment. They also changed their name—twice.
Following his newest restaurant’s opening, Top Chef winner Paul Qui was arrested for assault following a violent argument with his live-in girlfriend, according to the arrest report. Qui released a statement saying he was innocent and that he would be entering a treatment facility.
Kerbey Lane had to make amends after two women faced anti-Muslim insults from a fellow customer, who was then seated by a manager. CEO Mason Ayer apologized and said he was at fault for not having trained his staff well for those situations.
In the wake of scandals that range from the mislabeling of product weights to the selling of asparagus water for $6, Whole Foods added a rapid-response team to its communications department. Last month, when a pastor claimed to have found an anti-gay slur on a cake, the team reacted by releasing a video to show the store’s innocence.