How to Handle a PR Crisis When it Happens to Your Brand

By Rhonda Bradley / 22 August 2018

Insure your brand against PR crises by preparing a plan in advance with these tips learned from major companies who have survived PR crises.

A 2017 report found that nearly 20% of consumers may be hesitant to purchase high-cost items from brands that have experienced negative press.

If you think your brand will never misstep or experience a significant PR crisis, you’re setting up your brand for disaster. You must be prepared.

There are many reasons your brand could experience a PR crisis, no matter how small your business is or how diplomatic your company aims to be.

While you may do your best to hire employees whose values align with your company, you have no control over their day to day actions. In the time it takes to eat lunch or commute to or from the office, social media can turn one video into a viral sensation that reaches your customers and advertisements at lightning speed.

In this article, we take a look at some recent PR crises and examine what steps brands have taken to bounce back from seemingly impossible situations.

1.  Put A Plan In Place

Know what to do in case a PR crisis becomes the center of your brand’s world.

To prepare for potential crises, select and train a response team that includes key personnel. 

Adweek Magazine recommends that you include a representative from every aspect of your organization. Here are a few ways that your department heads can contribute toward your plan:

  • Human Resources: Create media training for executives.
  • Technical Services: Create a plan for handling 500x your normal traffic.
  • Legal Services: Draft pre-approved responses that can be used on social media and public relations.

Large and enterprise-level companies should consider crisis management tools or agencies that can help them fully prepare for every detail of potential crises. Small-to-medium sized businesses can prepare by harnessing a team of people to learn, create, and teach crisis management within the organization.

2. Avert Potential Issues by Using Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence can help you recognize potential warning signs by analyzing the online conversations of your audience. In many cases, AI can help you identify early warning signs so you can self-correct and avoid crises altogether.

Social listening can help your company plan and publish appropriate content while also keeping an eye on your reputation.

Social monitoring not only helps track and address short-term customer service issues, but it can also help manage crises as they are happening.

Take advantage of social listening and monitoring software to help your brand prepare, detect, and address public relations crises that may arise.

3. Respond Appropriately If You Experience a PR Crisis

If you’ve taken the time to plan for a potential crisis by preparing a crisis team and employing artificial intelligence, then you have a better chance of surviving in the instance your brand does experience one.

Some of the most critical actions to take during a crisis are:

  • Respond quickly.
  • Take responsibility.
  • Be candid, transparent, and honest in your communication.
  • Show empathy and compassion.

Dove Beauty offers an example of how a brand incorporated the above points to recover from a PR crisis in 2017. 

When a racially insensitive video clip enraged viewers, the brand immediately issued a formal apology, admitting “...we missed the mark in thoughtfully representing women of color and we deeply regret the offense that it has caused."

Dove Facebook apology

While humor can be a risky approach to a PR crisis, it may also be a genius move if the crisis does not involve morality.

For example, Kentucky Fried Chicken experienced a mild crisis earlier this year when almost 900 of their U.K. franchises were out of chicken for nearly 2 weeks, thanks to an error with the brand’s new delivery firm.

Though slightly crude, the chicken chain’s response gained positive attention worldwide, likely increasing fan loyalty instead of turning them away.

KFC’s response to the crisis was a simple image with a shorthand version of the “F-word” replacing the KFC logo. 

Sometimes, a swear word says it all.

KFC ad

The ad ended up winning an award in PR and Print at the year’s Cannes Lions. It was a perfectly timed and brilliant response for KFC’s audience. KFC made it through the crisis and managed to expand their reach while endearing themselves to fans across the globe.

The KFC chicken crisis is an excellent example of how getting to know your target audience creates a strong connection between people and your brand.

Prepare Your Brand in Advance to Avoid Potentially Devastating Consequences

Putting a crisis plan in place will help your team handle any PR crisis that occurs in the future. 

Artificial intelligence can help you catch problems early to avoid a crisis in the first place.

If you do experience a PR crisis, be sure to respond appropriately. Consult with your team and refer to your crisis plan in order to avoid any errors that could make the situation worse. By remaining calm and facing the problem head-on, you can often avert disaster.

Since no brand is immune to PR nightmares, be sure you know what to do if a crisis arises. 

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