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Expecting the unexpected: Managing a public relations crisis
Jill Odom | May 15, 2017

stopping a crisisPublic relations crises may seem like something only the huge companies like United Airlines may experience because they are constantly in the limelight, but these disasters can happen to anyone’s business.

The best way to think about a PR crisis is like that of a natural disaster. They can be severely damaging and like a natural disaster, you usually have a response plan in place.

Ask anyone who lives in a tornado-prone area and they’ll tell you where their safe place is. Likewise, your company needs to have a plan ready for the various types of crises that can appear.

An example of a recent crisis that occurred involving a landscaping company was the incident where former NASCAR driver Mike Wallace and his daughter were allegedly assaulted by three employees of Lucas Lawn and Landscaping, based in Indian Trail, North Carolina, last year.

Wallace shared about his attack along with photos of his injuries on Facebook and soon an incensed public was leaving one-star reviews on any rating website they could find with the company’s name listed.

The company quickly lost its service contract with the PNC Music Pavilion and other companies with the same name in other states suddenly found themselves under attack as well.

“Some people said, ‘You’re a piece of crap company,’ and others had more choice words,” John Lucas, owner of Lucas Lawn and Landscaping in Palm Bay, Florida, told MyNews13.

So how should have these companies responded to this situation? Some of the main goals when managing a crisis include protecting your brand, shortening the cycle of the crisis and returning to normal operations as soon as possible.

Warren Buffet, the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, advises for companies to “get it right, get it fast, get it out and get it over.”

Some of the ways to achieve this is by showing leadership, communicating honestly and in a timely manner, demonstrating concern, being open and accessible and putting a face with the company.

After Wallace’s accusations about the attack on June 17, 2016, Lucas Lawn and Landscape came out with a timely response on June 20, 2016 addressing the event and requested for the public to stop vilifying the company.

While it assured the community that it takes the actions of its employees seriously and planned to evaluate the undisputed information of the case, it failed to include the ever-important element of crisis communication: an apology.

Some may argue that an apology is an admission of guilt or legitimizes a critic, but an apology also acknowledges that something happened and that there is authentic regret.

Think about when you mess up on a jobsite. Best practice is to apologize and fix the situation rather than shift the blame or become defensive. The same goes for handling PR crises; own up to the mistakes, if there truly are some on your side, and announce how you plan to move on or prevent it from happening again.

To be ready for a major dilemma, you need to assess what risks your company could face and how likely they are to occur. An example of one discovered by the NASCAR case is having the same company name as other landscaping businesses. Even if your company is innocent, you still need to know how to respond and save your company from negative reviews.

Prioritize your planning based on the likelihood of the event happening and identify what would trigger that crisis. Develop a list of responsibilities for your team and know what message you want to get across to your audience when crafting your statement.

During the planning process, bring in legal counsel to avoid delays during an actual crisis. Staying silent allows critics to fill the void and can also come across as uncaring. If you do decide that an apology is needed, never ruin it with an excuse.

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