DMA Europa

How to use your Public Relations service in a crisis!

Sometimes things go wrong. Humans can make mistakes, machines can break down and plans can fail. However, managing a PR crisis is not just about understanding what went wrong in the first place but about how we act when it does. Here, DMA Europa Group examines some of the most famous crisis PR examples, looking at how the situation was handled to retain the positive brand of the company.

What is crisis PR?

Crisis PR, also known as crisis communication aims to protect a company or organisiation. Crisis PR is important for all companies, big or small. Without it, the reputation and overall brand of the company could be ruined.

Crisis PR examples

The Tylenol Crisis is one of most famous marketing case studies out there and the prime example of successfully managing a PR crisis. Not only does it teach us about the pillars of communicating when things go wrong it also acts as a beacon of hope to those finding themselves in a crisis.
If a company can manage to not only bounce back and recover its market share after a sabotaged product caused the death of 7 people, you can do it too!

Effectively managing a PR crisis

Let’s have a look at what happened back then and what elements of Johnson & Johnson’s reaction relied on effective PR to survive the crisis.

• Recognise the importance of the event & react quickly
The media, particularly the popular press, will react very quickly and they feed on sensation, suffering and disaster. The management recognised the import of what had happed and reacted quickly and positively, facing the situation. Time is critical in a crisis and strong management decisions are often decisive. The PR aspect has to have a message to deliver, a strong one in order to counteract the negative coverage.

CEOs don’t have to fall on their sword, but they do need to be seen and have an answer to communicate. Like a powerful person visiting a site of a natural disaster, it has a restorative effect. A good example of crisis PR is Takanobu Ito, the top executive at Honda, the world’s biggest motorcycle maker by volume, used his Honda motorbike to access an earthquake site. His action was practical, but has gone down in folklore.

• They had a plan
From day one all of Johnson & Johnson’s reactions to the crisis were well organised and coherent. If you have a crisis, you need a solid communication plan to avoid any misunderstandings between your company and the public. You are already in a crisis; don’t make it worse by contradicting yourself when you respond.

• Don’t put anyone at risk
The first action Johnson & Johnson took was to recall their product and alert people to not consume any Tylenol product. This kind of damage limitation is crucial when managing a PR crisis. Once the error becomes public the first question people will ask is about the damage that has been done so you need to ensure that your company did not knowingly put anyone at risk.

The automotive industry developed a very bad reputation for balancing the risk of injury caused by faulty goods and the cost of a product recall with the potential cost of litigation if the products were left out in the market. This very rarely happens now, and recalls are a fact of life.

In one notable recent example of crisis PR though, the VW Group showed us how not to do it. The company didn’t exactly cover itself in glory recently with its emissions scandal – due largely to some initial attempts at avoidance before the story really broke and the lack of a strong coherent response when it did. VW was warned early-on about an investigation in the US, but took months to work out what happened and how to respond after it broke in the media.

• Honesty & Communication
Johnson & Johnson ensured a constant two-way-communication between themselves and the public. Constant updates on the situation are crucial but you need to allow people to respond. Will they be upset and angry? Yes, they will be. However, by providing customers with a channel to communicate their negative feelings you can show that you care about everyone affected by the error you made.
Don’t go and bury your head in the sand when things go wrong. DMA Europa Group can help you manage a PR crisis in your company, allowing you to seize the opportunity and make the best of it. Contact us today on 01562 751436 or email [email protected].


Published August 30, 2017