Last week I was invited by BBC Radio Lincolnshire to be a guest on The Peter Levy Show to talk about the G4S debacle. The security company’s failure to recruit enough security guards for the Olympic Games will surely go down in history as one of the biggest PR gaffes of all time, and the question remains as to whether the company and Chief Executive Nick Buckles can recover from this “humiliating shambles”.
Having to face negative publicity in the press is unfortunately not only a problem for large multinationals. Crises or PR disasters happen to all sorts of businesses, including solo entrepreneurs and SMEs, every day. From computer system failures which leave businesses unable to provide vital products and services to their clients to a downturn in business resulting in job losses, they all have potential to attract bad publicity and if left unmanaged they can irrevocably damage hard-earned reputations.
There’s no need to throw your hand up in despair at the hopelessness of it all just yet, however. If you handle it correctly you can mitigate the fallout and even turn the situation around to your advantage.
Prevention is the best cure. Predict what could possibly go wrong in your business and plan what action you would take to resolve it. Identify all the interested parties – staff, customers, journalists – and decide how you would engage with them. This is a good time to check all your records are up to date and back them up. Don’t overlook social media. There are lots of free monitoring tools like Social Mention which allow you to keep abreast of what’s being said about you, your company or your product on the web.
Appoint a spokesperson. Designate one person in your business who is comfortable talking to journalists. Ensure everyone else knows who to refer media enquiries to. You may want to consider investing in some media training for this person or hiring a PR company to hold your hand.
Release information as early as you can. Prepare a statement to send to journalists and post on your website. The more accurate information you can quickly release which puts what happened in context and gets your side of the story across, the better. If there are legal issues find out what you can say and don’t speculate. It’s far better to promise a clear update in three hours’ time than to guess wrongly.
Accept responsibility and apologise. If it is your fault hold your hand up and say sorry, and even if it wasn’t your fault show concern and be sincere. KS