PR Disaster Management: Damage Control in The Digital Age

Brand and Consumer Insights, Other, SEO, Social Media Marketing

June 15, 2018 by

PR disasters are never easy to handle. The Internet plays a big role in spreading corporate mishaps, delivering the news in seconds. Any business that commits a public gaffe will find itself in hot water if the online community amplifies the story and passes it across different networks. As such, managing your business’s reputation is a lot trickier today.

What made it easy to spread your message and brand (i.e., the Internet) will also put a spotlight on your smallest mistakes. More than that, online users are easily provoked into reactionary behavior by a PR crisis. Before you know it, you’re caught in a storm, trying to persuade the world that your honest mistake was not an intentional trespass.

Thankfully - no matter how bad a situation gets - there are effective best practices for to managing a PR mistake. You may not have a big budget for damage control like big companies do, but with a set protocol, you can solve PR problems before they do real damage.

Taking The Bull by The Horns

Every second counts online. Therefore, being proactive about fixing a problem pays off more than waiting for the controversy to die down. To not set the record straight as soon as a mistake is made will simply leave your company vulnerable to further risks.

Respond to Questions and Criticisms

Answering hundreds of emails, and seeking forgiveness is no one’s idea of a fun day. But responding to negative reactions is a basic tenet of damage control. Whether you’re operating a small business or running a big brand, addressing complaints with tact and thoughtfulness is mission number one.

Be Positive and Apologetic

Although you may face a furnace of negativity from every corner, reacting in the same way will absolutely make things worse. Instead, keep your tone apologetic and positive while answering negative social media posts. Acknowledging your mistake is a good move, even to people who make the situation more difficult: the public responds to transparency in a positive way. If the timing is right, offer a course of action that will help you right your wrong, so that people know you’re sincere about addressing the issue.

Make a Statement on Social Media

No other platform helps spread PR disasters faster than social media, and it’s quickly becoming the first place where companies publish their statements. This is a sound move considering how much people use social media. It’s the primary channel for many people, used by more than half the population in both the United States and the Philippines. It’s where people get their news, and also where negative press tends to circulate. As such, publishing a statement on social media will help curtail criticism about your brand on the website.

Time Your Response

Business actions don’t exist in a vacuum. What’s happening in the world will affect how the public sees your PR mishap and how you deal with it. Choose your words carefully, especially when you’re caught in a big controversy. The last thing you want to do is make a statement so formal and devoid of concern that your words fly over people’s heads.

Ignoring the problem is not an option either. Big or small, a PR crisis deserves your full attention, so confronting an issue should always be your first move. And there are ways of dealing with this kind of problem that will help you weather the storm, if not, turn the negative exposure into a positive one.

Five Steps to Follow in PR Crisis Management

If big brands like Nivea, Dove or Pepsi - with all their approval processes - can commit big oversights in their marketing, then it’s realistic for a small business to make mistakes now and then.

Here are five steps you can follow in case of a PR disaster:

1. Hit the Pause Button

Action is critical in dealing with PR problems, but before doing anything, you must take time to evaluate the situation. A clear, well-thought-out plan is much better than a knee-jerk, tone-deaf reaction. A PR nightmare is an emergency situation, but your business shouldn’t halt just so you can put out the fire. Make sure you know the public’s expectation before you make a move.

2. Take Stock of the Situation

Everything you do post-controversy should be aimed at solving something. That’s why it’s important to gather information that matters: where did the problem come from? What did you do or say that incensed the public? Was the information confidential to begin with, and if so, does the problem require internal or external solutions? Finding the answers to these questions will let you know what the real problem is, and what sorts of solutions will help you mitigate the situation.

3. Determine Who You Affected

With social media giving everyone a voice and a platform, you’ll find that even those who weren’t affected by your mistake will post their opinions. They can add to the chatter and complexity of the issue. Manage your resources and address only the affected ones. This way, you direct your efforts toward making amends to the right parties.

4. Managing Expectations

If you can manage the public’s expectation, you can work on rebuilding your reputation without all the weight of negativity from criticism. Let your customers know that you’re doing something about the problem, but clarify that it will take time to solve the issue for everyone. Managing expectations is- first and foremost - a way of showing people that you have the situation under control.

5. Improving Your SEO

Google’s search engine results page (SERP) will display the latest information about a certain topic or the latest news related to the keyword you used. If anyone searches for you, they’re likely to see news articles or Google reviews that are about your PR nightmare. That’s automatically bad press. But while you can’t avoid the exposure, you can outrank search results that put you in a negative light.

Rework your content, highlight your blogs that offer insight, and engage the media. These actions will help you bury your PR crisis down the results page, and highlight the good work you’ve been doing.


A timely, genuine apology is invaluable in times of a PR crisis. You can’t change history, but by addressing the situation, you will help people to see past the mistake.

Restoring the trust and confidence of consumers is the hardest part of dealing with PR mishaps. As they always say, the Internet never forgets. But those who criticize you are human. They appreciate you more when you own up to a mistake and show sincerity in correcting it. With enough effort, you can repair the damage to your reputation and return to the public's good graces. 

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