Public relations is a delicate balance, and it’s all too easy to see it upset. PR crises can take infinite forms, and careless leaders can face hazards they might not even see coming.
But, what’s really at risk if your enterprise suffers a public-facing crisis?
While most people recognize how substantial the fallout can be, few draw concrete connections between their operating practices and their proclivity for PR nightmares.
These examples of deadly public relations sins might help you wise up before the damage is done.
Crisis 1: Weighing in on a Polarizing Topic
Would you trust a complete stranger who walked into your office off the street bearing supposed goodwill and business planning advice? If not, then why should you expect people to turn to your brand for the final word on politics, religion or other divisive issues?
Just as you’d prefer not to have random individuals telling you how to do your job, reconsider whether your audience genuinely wants your unsolicited opinion on how they should live their lives.
In some cases, it makes sense for a brand to contribute to public discourse, but it’s usually a hazardous proposition. For instance, one survey from 2018 found that most consumers liked it when brands spoke up on social issues.
Even within that majority, however, there were disparities between population groups. For instance, liberals and conservatives weren’t equally receptive to hearing moral messages from companies.
No matter how many social media users agree with you, your opinion will never achieve 100 percent approval. With this in mind, it usually makes sense to stay away from divisive issues, unless the issue relates directly to your industry or course of business.
This was readily demonstrated by the NBA-China row over Hong Kong, where the public response largely depended on how people felt about contemporary international policy — not basketball. Remember that there are always at least two sides to every problem, regardless of how much more valid you assume your stance is.
How to Avoid Crisis 1
Don’t censor yourself, but consider whether or not it really makes sense for your brand to opine on divisive matters. Before sending that next “genius” Tweet, ask your coworkers, decision-makers and lawyers how they feel about the issue. Hopefully, you’ll come to a more nuanced understanding.
Bottom line? When you’re trying to decide whether or not to weigh in on a divisive topic, consider the potential fallout before you pull the trigger.
Crisis #2: Mistreating Employees
Mistreating one’s employees is clearly wrong, but that doesn’t stop companies from doing it. From sexual harassment and whistleblower retaliation to worker misclassification, word spreads fast when it comes to bad behavior. It’s up to you whether your company becomes fodder for a gory cinematic exposé or sticks to the straight and narrow.
How to Avoid Crisis #2
Jump into your employees’ shoes to get better acquainted with their concerns. When you discover wrongdoing, never cover it up. Set the right tone by holding people accountable and giving the victims a safe environment to tell their side of the story. Independent oversight is a must.
Crisis #3: Not Having an Accessible Website
Failing to maintain an accessible website is a PR nightmare, and you’re making life harder for potential customers with disabilities. Not maintaining an accessible website and mobile site also exposes your brand to lawsuits. Such practices give off the impression that you don’t care about consumers unless they’re in your primary demographic.
How to Avoid Crisis #3:
Poor website accessibility is one of the easiest PR crises to avoid. The Bureau of Internet Accessibility offers a free audit, so you can see if your website is in compliance with the WCAG 2.1 standards for internet accessibility.
As more consumers stand up for themselves by fighting back against unaccommodating sites, companies that fail to take this easy precaution will invariably suffer the consequences.