What do we mean by a PR disaster? It’s when your business receives a lot of bad press, damaging its reputation. Traditionally, bad PR came from news reports or stories in the press, but modern PR has evolved to include social media in this as well.
Something happened, and this caused lots of people to talk negatively about your business. As a result, you’re fighting hard to protect your brand and come out of the situation unscathed. It’s not always possible – many brands (particularly small ones) never recover from PR disasters. The bad coverage is enough to dissuade anyone from using the business and it slowly fizzles out.
So, what’s the best way to recover from a PR disaster? Honestly, try to avoid it! Avoiding these disasters means you don’t have to deal with rebuilding your brand or putting out countless fires. With that being said, your focus shifts to the ways your business can suffer from a PR disaster. Understand how things can go wrong and you’ll be in a better position to prevent them.
Disasters come in various forms, though we’re going to cover the most common ways a business will receive negative press:
The most obvious way you’ll receive bad press is through ethical controversies or issues. This is wildly common because there are so many ways you can become embroiled in ethical problems.
A few examples include:
- Manipulating public opinion with false information
- Using unethical manufacturing practices
- Taking people’s data without their consent
We could go on and on, but you get the idea. If your business does anything shady, and people find out about it, you’ll receive a swarm of negative social media comments and bad press.
What’s interesting is how easy it is to be unethical without realizing it or thinking that it’s a big deal. Back in 2006, Walmart got loads of bad press because of some blogs posted online. They made it seem like the blogs were natural, describing a couple’s experiences in Walmarts across the country. It turned out they were completely made up by the company, so everyone flipped out.
A more recent example is the Facebook Cambridge Analytica Scandal where millions of Facebook users had their data taken without consent. It was a massive deal and many believe that Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg’s reputations have been permanently tarnished. There’s certainly been more distrust between consumers and social networks since then.
Of course, you need only look at the endless reports of sweatshops and inhumane working conditions to know that unethical manufacturing practices are rife. There’s a simple way to avoid any ethical controversies: don’t be stupid.
Don’t be an idiot and look for ways to cut corners – or be disingenuous. Honesty is the best policy at all times, and take care of anyone who works for you. If you’re open and transparent about all of your business practices, you’ll never encounter ethical PR disasters.
Many brands have received bad press for unsafe packaging and it comes about it two ways:
- Packaging that harms customers
- Packaging containing dangerous goods that’s too easy to tamper with
Starting with the latter, the biggest example is the Tylenol fiasco in the 80s. Johnson & Johnson released Tylenol painkillers in unsafe packaging that had been tampered with and laced with cyanide. 7 people died because of this, leading to a mass product recall and big alterations to the packaging. The brand managed to recover, largely due to how quickly it handled the situation and put customers first.
Learn from this if you’re starting a business that sells potentially dangerous goods, particularly drugs. You need proper pharmaceutical packaging services to ensure all products are tightly locked away and impossible to tamper with without it being obvious.
Going back to the other instance of unsafe packaging, we’re talking about using materials or packaging things in a way that physically hurts people. For instance, they try to open your box and cut themselves. There aren’t any isolated examples of this, but it’s something to be aware of as you will get loads of negative press if it keeps happening to customers.
Speaking about customers injuring themselves, faulty products are the cause of many public relations disasters. Imagine planning your business for years and spending tons of money developing a product. Then, you finally release it to the world, and disaster strikes.
Faults cause injuries or make people sick. Customers post videos all over social media showing the problems, and the local press gets wind of it. Other news outlets soon jump on the bandwagon and you’re going viral for all the wrong reasons.
One of the biggest examples of this is the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 Recall in 2016. The company launched its new flagship Galaxy Note phone, only to receive countless complaints about it spontaneously combusting and catching fire. Loads of viral videos ensued and the tech giant had to recall all devices, costing it $5.3 billion.
A massive company like Samsung can afford to make this mistake and survive. Yes, the company received terrible PR – and many are still a bit iffy about buying Galaxy Note phones now – but it has enough money and brand power to survive. Your small business won’t be as lucky! If you have to recall products because of faults, you may never recover from the financial losses.
Not to mention the bad press means consumers won’t trust you anymore. You don’t have an established brand to fall back on that proves you deserve a second chance. This is why you must test all products before launch. Check for everything and anything to mitigate the risks of selling something with a fault.
Poor Customer Service
Your business will get loads of negative PR when it offers poor customer service. Ironically, issues relating to customer service rarely surface in the mainstream media. A news outlet is unlikely to report about a customer service advisor being rude to customers!
However, you still get bad PR thanks to social media. Most people get their news from social media platforms, and lots of bad comments about your business will be seen by many. All it takes is for one or two posts to be shared around and suddenly everyone’s trying to boycott your business.
People immediately believe what they read online for some reason. If they see negative posts about your business, they’ll think you’re a company worth avoiding. Poor customer service will also lead to negative online reviews, further hurting your brand image.
How do you prevent this PR crisis? Provide great customer service! Listen to your customers and come up with timely solutions. Be empathetic and understand that some situations differ from others. If you’re reasonable and have positive interactions with people, you’ll start seeing good PR on social media instead!
This kind of blends into the ethical controversies section, but it’s focused solely on issues relating to your employees. You will find endless lists of companies sued by employees over discrimination and other big problems.
Gender pay divides are possibly the most common form of employee mistreatment. Word gets out that a business pays its male employees significantly more than its female ones, despite the two doing the same job. As you can imagine, if this enters the mainstream media or picks up the pace on social media, you’re clamoring to try and fix this reputational disaster.
Racism is another obvious and shockingly common form of employee mistreatment. If there are ever reports of racial discrimination in your business, you will struggle to recover from it. Sexual assault is another issue worth noting here – employees who come out saying they were assaulted at work will lead to massive brand disasters.
Needless to say, all of these things are disgusting and inexcusable. If you let any of this happen in your business, you deserve to be hit with all sorts of lawsuits and financial complications. So, make sure there is never any form of employee mistreatment. Treat people how they deserve to be treated and pay everyone fairly. Cultivating a nice workplace will help your business in so many ways while also ensuring you avoid another PR disaster.
The Importance Of Avoiding PR Disasters For Small Businesses
Throughout this post we’ve given examples of companies embroiled in different PR disasters. You’re reading the brand names and thinking “Hang on, these companies are still big and successful, so why should we worry about PR disasters?!”
As mentioned a few times, bigger brands can get away with negative PR. They’re too big to suffer financial consequences and can use their brand history to recover and move on. Small businesses don’t get the same luxury. A minor PR disaster can be all it takes to ruin your business for good. You must face the financial issues that come after the disaster, as well as attempting to regain consumer trust.
For many small startups, this is impossible. Don’t put your business in a position where it has to worry about any of these PR problems. Learn to avoid disasters before they strike, and you have a better chance of surviving in the competitive business world.