Most people associate crisis communications with large corporations and politicians, but a PR crisis can also endanger a start-up’s future before even gets off the ground. Some well-known start-ups and early-stage ventures, including Uber, Airbnb and Slack, encountered PR crises but managed to overcome the difficulties
Start-ups and small businesses typically lack the resources of large corporations that can more easily afford a PR agencies and in-house crisis communications staff. But start-ups can still prepare for a PR crisis by following these recommendations.
Create a PR crisis plan. In many ways, start-ups follow the same steps when preparing for a PR crisis. Developing a well-documented, comprehensive crisis management plan is the essential first step. A quality PR crisis plan names who will represent the business and speak to the media, who will be involved in key decisions and who will have ultimate authority over decisions.
“Whether the issue you’re facing is massive or minor, preparedness is power in the face of a crisis, and it will ultimately help protect you company, employees and customers,” says Erin Rohr, director of marketing communications at Metis Communications. “While there is no one-size-fits-all solution to a crisis, the same applies to companies facing an issue – be honest, be accountable and determine a solution quickly to shift focus back to the business and learn from the incident.”
Identify potential issues. Look at existing companies that are similar to your own, Rohr suggests. Chances are that other startups have experienced a data breach, layoffs, a product failure or other type of problem. Examining these instances can reveal the angles reporters take or questions they ask. Also assess which messages resonated positively and negatively with the public to help you form your own stance.
Examine your infrastructure. Devise a plan for any company systems or functions that might fail in the event of negative media attention. Assure your website can handle a large surge of traffic of over 100,000, advises the PR agency Pressfarm. If your website goes down during a crisis, your business will be in jeopardy. Customers won’t have access to services they have paid for, and you might have a crisis within a crisis.
Prepare content. Prepare holding statements that the start-up can immediately release with few changes. Such statements typically affirm the company’s policies regarding the issue, apologize if needed, and promise an immediate investigation.
Monitor both traditional and social media. Media monitoring provides essential information before, during and after a crisis. A media monitoring and measurement service can alert the start-up or small business about an emerging crisis by reporting a spike in negative comments. Continually monitor your brand names for news and social media comments. Agree on who’s in charge of monitoring social media, which platforms they are monitoring, what they are listening for, how often they review results, and to whom they report their findings.
Treat employees well. Companies known for treating employees well fare better during a crisis. If consumers believe companies mistreat employees, they are more likely to criticize the organization on social media and boycott their products.
Act quickly. When a PR crisis does strike, issue a press release or public statement ASAP. “This is the fundamental rule of any crisis management; any delay in sending the public statement can have disastrous consequences,” says PR crisis communications expert Dev Dave, head of marketing at Gyaanexchange.com. Be transparent and disclose accurate and complete information. The first 48 hours are most important. Determine what went wrong and how it happened and if an apology is warranted.
Define the problem. Not all negative news reports or negative social media comments call for a full-blown PR crisis response. Sometimes a company should hold its ground following negative outbursts on social media. Sometimes an apology is in order. Some news stories only require that you acknowledge the problem and state that you want to solve it.
Bottom Line: Like large corporations, start-ups can also encounter a PR crisis. A crisis can be particularly debilitating to a start-up that’s just beginning to form a reputation. Although start-ups typically lack the resources of large corporations, they can still create a plan that helps them survive a crisis.
William J. Comcowich founded and served as CEO of CyberAlert LLC, the predecessor of Glean.info. He is currently serving as Interim CEO and member of the Board of Directors. Glean.info provides customized media monitoring, media measurement and analytics solutions across all types of traditional and social media.