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PR is for the bad times as well as the good

Many organisations view PR as a ‘nice to have’. An extension of marketing, helping to grow brand awareness and generate leads. But PR has a wider, more fundamental role to play when it comes to reputation management. Yes, PR can help to positively raise a company’s profile but it’s also important to recognise what PR can do in less favourable times, when the proverbial hits the fan!

As the famous Warren Buffet once said “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it!”. This is frighteningly true. Take the Domino’s Pizza YouTube scandal in 2009 as an example. Two Domino’s Pizza employees filmed themselves preparing food in disgusting ways. The footage went viral and it took Domino’s two days to react, by which time it was too late as customers’ perceptions of the Domino’s Pizza brand had turned negative within just a few hours of the content going live.

The BP Oil crisis is another example of poor reputation management. There was never going to be a positive outcome after the worst oil spill in history, which led to death and environmental destruction, however BP is the perfect example of how NOT to react after a disaster. The company’s response showed a lack of ownership and empathy, which played havoc with BP’s reputation and the stock price nose-dived.

PR can’t undo a scandal or a disaster, but it can certainly assist with damage limitation and in some cases, a negative situation can be turned into a positive. By reacting quickly, demonstrating regret, empathy and honesty, and keeping the communications channels with customers, employees and the media open, this can help companies to avoid a total PR disaster. Perhaps we can take a masterclass from KFC who navigated their ‘no chicken’ crisis with gusto. KFC immediately admitted blame and regret in a self-depreciating way that its customers connected with. Summing-up the situation with the slogan ‘FCK’, and publishing comic but sincere apologies in national newspapers quickly had customers returning to its restaurants with little, if any, long-term damage caused.

So remember that PR is not just a publicity generator when budget allows, it can prove vital for when things go pear-shaped. The way a company reacts straight after a crisis could mean either business survival or business disaster. So how prepared are you?