The hardest job of managing a crisis may very well be cleaning up the mess. After the dust settles, your communications team needs to get right to work on repairing your brand’s tarnished image and regaining public trust. These are not easy tasks, and they can take a long time to accomplish, depending on the severity of the situation.
According to Rusty Cawley, assistant director of communications and public relations at Texas A&M University’s Division of Research, your brand will have to go through a period of penance before it can regain confidence in the community. Cawley lays out a six-step process that brands in crisis must follow to achieve forgiveness with the public.
- Confess your sins. Explain what happened and why. Your sins may be real or exist only in the minds of an outraged community. That’s irrelevant. The community is angry and may be in a position to inflict great harm. Acknowledge the outrage and admit you were wrong.
- Allow the community to purge its outrage. Create a forum that allows the community to express its emotions directly to the top brass. Take notes, but avoid debate. Weather the storm.
- Repent and apologize. An apology has three parts: Say you are sorry; express sympathy for specific victims, real or perceived; and accept responsibility. If your lawyers object, consider Peter Sandman’s formulation: “Our lawyers tell us it’s not our fault. But we feel like it’s our fault, and we’re going to act like it’s our fault.”
- Set things right. Seek the community’s views about what is right and just. Welcome suggestions. Do more than you are asked to do.
- Show improvement. Update the community regularly. Create systems that will prevent you from transgressing again. Ask for recommendations. It’s better to implement the community’s ideas than your own.
- Demonstrate humility. Give physical reality to your penance. It may be a fountain, a park, an annual scholarship or some other major, tangible project. Whatever you choose must be dramatic, selfless and enduring.
For more information on handling a communications crisis in your organization, see PR News’ Book of Crisis Management Strategies and Tactics, available now.
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