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One week into 2018 and a global consumer brand incited an international public relations (PR) crisis. Clothing retailer H&M is under fire for an image in its online store featuring a black child model wearing a sweatshirt that read “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle.” The image, which many deem racially offensive, caused immediate uproar and threats to boycott the chain ensued.

The company apologized for the poor marketing decision and removed the image, but will that be enough to repair H&M’s reputation?

A public relations (PR) crisis can strike anytime, no matter the size or sector of a company. We witnessed a fair share of media disasters and PR crises in 2017, including United Airlines’ forced removal of a flight passenger, Adidas’ poorly worded, callous email following the Boston Marathon and Uber’s plethora of scandals, including accusations of corporate espionage, employee mistreatment and misogyny.

Many companies think a crisis will never happen to them. The reality is, crisis situations affect businesses of all sizes and industries. There isn’t a one-size fits all approach to crisis communication management. The following best practices, however, will help outline and deploy an effective response plan:

1. Immediate action encourages swift resolution.

In today’s 24/7 news cycle, information can be spread globally almost instantaneously, and it is more difficult to control the narrative once it’s public. It’s vital to quickly—and thoroughly—evaluate the situation to issue editorial materials and stabilize the issue.

Public statements and/or news releases should be issued as soon as the crisis has been identified and immediately after pertinent information has been verified. If possible, written content and verbal statements should outline potential solutions and next steps. Including this information demonstrates the company’s commitment to a quick resolution and aides message control.

If you catch wind a crisis is looming, consider preemptive efforts, such as initiating contact with relevant reporters or using company social channels to get your story out before news breaks. While that may seem like an unconventional approach, this type of transparency allows the company to control the narrative, so resulting news coverage is more likely to contain accurate, fairly balanced information.

2. Real-time monitoring provides actionable insight.

Advanced software platforms that monitor news and social media activity in real-time are essential for keeping a pulse on news coverage as well as public comments and sentiments. The real-time data provides a line of sight during a crisis, so trending headlines and social conversations are immediately identified and important decisions can be made quickly.

The cost for media monitoring and analytics software varies based on the depth of analysis and reporting capabilities of the program. Enterprise systems for large, publicly traded organizations can cost tens of thousands and require a long-term contract.

However, there are also media monitoring systems with free service options for smaller organizations with more limited resources. The gratis systems are useful for examining news mentions and social conversations, but keep in mind that they have limited reporting and analysis capabilities.

With consistent monitoring, you’re able to know what the public is saying and respond in real-time. Remember, one negative mention can quickly go viral. Implementing ongoing monitoring is a smart practice to help mitigate issues before they become crises.

3. Transparency helps repair trust.

Among the most damaging impacts of a crisis is the loss of public trust and credibility. A crisis might be “handled” in the sense that your company is no longer in the headlines, but the aftereffect can cause long-term damage to a company’s reputation and market share.

Repairing brand reputation requires transparency. If a mistake was made, a mistake was made. This is an opportunity to take ownership, if necessary, and demonstrate a commitment to resolving the issue.

No matter the root cause of the crisis, authenticity in your communication is vital for winning back public trust. Don’t become silent or respond with “no comment.” Instead, create positive conversation and dialogue by sharing relevant information and updates as well as your intended next steps to repair the damage.

Crises are difficult to predict and can stem from a variety of sources – actions of unruly employees, evidence of racial insensitivity or sexual bias, fake news and everything in between. Should a crisis come your way remember, responding to the pressure is better than reacting to it.

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