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3 Questions to Ask to Prepare Yourself for a PR Crisis

If LEGO, the toy beloved by children and hated by parents’ feet, can become embroiled in a PR crisis, no brand is safe. The brand has a longstanding partnership with Shell, but its recent production of Shell-branded LEGOs has brought down Greenpeace’s wrath. LEGO responded to the environmental agency, but the response did little to alleviate concern or to clarify its stance on environmental issues.

PR Crisis Communications

LEGO’s problem ostensibly stems from refusing to take a stand on the issue at play. The brand says it supports the environment, but its partnership with Shell casts the brand in an uncertain light.

While LEGO struggles to balance consumer expectations with business outcomes, other brands can study the situation, learn from it and prepare for PR crises. The following three questions are key to that preparation.

1. What do you stand for?

Stand - PR Crisis

LEGO says it cares about the environment. The brand does recycle 90 percent of its waste, and it has promised to produce more renewable energy than the energy it uses by 2020.

If LEGO wants consumers to know it cares about the environment, it may have to do something drastic like issuing a policy statement, seeking a different business partner or implementing a cause marketing campaign.

When it comes to your own brand, you have to decide what it’s going to stand for. What causes are important to it and the people who work there? Every action, including business partnerships, should be made in light of that consideration.

Don’t forget to consider the people who purchase from or support you, either. Just because a certain cause resonates with you doesn’t mean it will be important to your audience. If your interest is in doing the most good, you should seek causes and business partners that align with your brand identity and are likely to garner support from business stakeholders, employees, and customers.

Example: Let’s pretend you’re a pharmaceutical company. You can support any cause you want, and you love the idea of supporting the local pet shelter because you love, love, love dogs and want everyone to adopt them.

It’s a good cause, but it doesn’t really align with your brand identity and could make for questions and criticism about animal drug testing – in other words, a PR crisis. A better option is finding causes and business partners involved with STEM or even going hyper-local and sponsoring the citywide science fair.

2. How do you tell that story?

PR Crisis Communications - Storytelling

PR may be responsible for placing stories, but it’s equally responsible for shaping them. A number of celebrities have taken to shaping their stories by responding to potential crises on Instagram. When they do that, they change the story. It’s no longer about what happened or who did what but how the celebrity has taken steps to thwart criticism and backlash.

Your brand story is a matter of word and deed. If you say your organization is committed to a particular issue, it needs to take actions to prove that’s the case. Those actions include writing communications processes for employees as well as choosing the right business and cause partners.

Example: Let’s return to the pharmaceutical company. You’ve chosen to sponsor the citywide science fair. Good! What can you do to tell that story?

You could write a news release talking about how your company invests in the future. You could also use visual media and social to celebrate the winners and record your presence at the event.

3. How do you show meaningful impact?

Impact - Crisis Communications

LEGO does share how much it recycles, and it does have its pledge to renewable energy. Does that show meaningful and measurable impact? Possibly, but it’s overshadowed by the partnership with Shell. Shell’s actions are much better known, making it difficult for LEGO to overcome the stigma of association.

Whatever your brand stands for, that stance has to be tied to tangible, transparent outcomes. If you say one thing, but the results say another, you will be found out. You could keep the results hidden, but the action will only arouse suspicion. You have to be open, even if that means facing criticism. As long as you are taking steps to improve the existing results, you can weather just about any public flogging.

Example: Let’s fast-forward. Your company has sponsored the science fair for 11 years. You now have data that shows how much of an impact your investment has had.

The kids who visited your facility when they were eight-years-old are in college and studying medicine and technology. The high school winners are working for some of the best pharmaceutical companies, including yours. The sciences in the local schools are flourishing because of your decision to support the local community.

You can use all that data and all those stories when seeking new partners, both in the business and nonprofit realms, and media opportunities. You should also use it to see where you can improve your efforts and further refine and establish your story. Maybe, too, you’ll be able to take a short pause from your branded story and support that dog shelter you still love so very much.

Want to know more about crisis communications? Get advice from Judy Smith, the inspiration for the hit show “Scandal,” here!

Images: Dan Goodwin, Steven DepoloPascal, Andrea (Creative Commons)

About Erin Feldman

Erin Feldman is the director of editorial services at Tenacity5 Media. When she isn’t researching, writing, and editing blog posts and white papers, she writes poetry and essays, draws her favorite Write Right character, and plans what art form to study next. She’s based in Austin, Texas and can be found on Twitter @erinmfeldman.

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