A Shower of PR Disasters
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Yes, it may be true that ‘sweet April showers do spring May flowers, but in terms of publicity, April brought not only showers, but a flood of PR disasters, including the now-famous United airlines passenger removal disaster and the lesser followed American Airline’s employee scuffle. I cringe when I see organizations suffering publicly at their own hands, but it also provides great opportunities to chat with businesses about strategic communications and where they can apply resources to avoid similar PR disasters, or at a minimum, professionally handle a crisis when it comes up.

I love what the Star Tribune: United Airline’s fallout is good PR had to say about United’s publicity issues:

United Airlines’ problems were not public relations problems; they were operational ones that lacked adequate communicator involvement or influence.

I talk a lot about strategic planning and crisis communication and tweeted a fantastic Big Duck article about incorporating communication as a universal strategic function. If companies thought beyond tactics and treated communications as a key strategy for the entire organization, it would be game-changing. Great, short reading if you have a moment:

Last month, I was lucky to have opportunities to chat with friends about how entrepreneurs and small business owners can learn from the media disasters of larger companies. There was a great conversation via podcast with Theresa Hegel of Wearables magazine about avoiding PR pitfalls.

I would love to hear your thoughts:

I was also invited to chat with my friend Brandon on Wright Stuff Radio about how every business has a story that unfolds in the public eye and how you opt to manage that story can make or break your business. Fun conversation and great insight from the group interview.

All this chatting followed a slightly horrifying article by the Washington Post about the fallout from Cosmopolitan magazine’s seeming support of ‘cancer as a diet plan.’ I noted the horrible messaging and I find it ridiculous that the media company did not respond to the article after it was called out on social media as offensive. However, given the PR disasters of the week, it seemed lower on the social media radar for many, so perhaps they avoided a PR catastrophe by keeping quiet.

Photo published for Cosmo's Headline About Cancer Survivor's Weight Loss Is A Doozy

What I find fascinating is that Cosmopolitan deleted the offending tweet but the story stayed on the website while neither Cosmopolitan nor its parent company, Hearst, ever commented on the response. Perhaps the biggest lesson of the month was that sometimes no response is the best response. Not a gamble I am willing to take, but one that may have paid off. Compared to the disasters of the month, Cosmo got off fairly easily, while other brands and individuals were trashed on social media, including Pepsi and Sean Spicer.

I ended the month on a high note, writing specifically for my friends in the A/E/C world, who do a great job of staying out of the media – too great, actually. I wrote that by offering marketing communications a seat at the table, this type of public assault can be avoided.

It’s been a crazy PR month and I have been reminded almost daily that we live in a world gone amok. Crisis Communication is rarely planned for but often needed. To move the conversation and focus forward during a crisis, remember the four Rs: Show regret, resolve to fix the situation, implement reforms and offer some form of restitution. Ideally, do this before social media takes over the conversation. And no defensiveness, no claims of ignorance.

1.) REGRET: Board members, management or staff do not need to apologize, but the Organization as a whole must REGRET what has happened, (individuals do not have to feel guilty or even responsible). Sample: The Board regrets that the financial situation has deteriorated to this point.

2.) RESOLVE: It must be made clear that the Organization is working to RESOLVE the issue. Sample: The Board has resolved both publicly and privately to work toward solutions to ensure the financial health of the Organization.

3.) REFORM: Without the promise of change, customers, clients, members, investors have nothing to cling to. Sample: The Organization is in the process of evaluating reforms to the current [insert issue here] and will be making reforms to this process by the end of the quarter.

4.) RESTITUTION: Publicly giving back or compensating in some way is something the Organization may want to consider. Sample: The Organization is examining the possibility of requiring reimbursements for items that were entered as expenses, but were found to be personal use.

The reality is that even savvy business professionals and experienced marketers rarely have the ability to manage their company, develop their brand, and plan for the future simultaneously. You need expert assistance and someone you can rely on for sound advice, feedback, and direction. I know this all seems like a lot of work for something that might not happen, but if you find yourself in a crisis, you will be so glad that you have prepared.