Overcoming PR Crises: 3 Examples

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Today, the public is connected and quick to react, requiring a strategic mindset on the part of PR professionals to turn a disastrous story into one with a favorable outcome. A PR crisis is a pressing business risk that can ruin the reputation of a brand. When a problem arises, it’s best to be prepared and respond in a straightforward manner. Here are three examples of PR crises and how they were handled well:

The Problem and the Save: President Obama’s Affordable Care Act

The healthcare.gov site experienced many glitches when it first went live, resulting in a lack of confidence in the new Affordable Care Act. The PR save was to tune in emotionally with the public. In a TV interview, President Obama put on a humorous performance while plugging the healthcare.gov site and the Affordable Care Act. After the interview, the healthcare.gov site experienced a 40 percent increase in traffic.  This, along with using a variety of media outlets to inform the public about the many benefits of signing up, was a smart PR move.

Nonprofit PR specialists working on a project.

Putting Out the Smoke

The American Medical Association and the American Pharmacists Association urged CVS to stop selling tobacco products, as it negated the pharmacy chain’s claim of promoting wellness. CVS decided to stick to its commitment of promoting wellness and removed all tobacco-related products from its shelves. As part of their PR move, the company distributed several announcements about putting customer health first and changing their store image, making sure the many news outlets were aware.  So, what was the result? Praise from both associations and President Obama. Part of putting out the fire of a PR crisis is to perceive its likely consequences. CVS took a proactive approach to avoid the impending crisis had it continued to sell tobacco products. It takes foresight.

The Right Response

Johnson & Johnson’s cyanide-laced Tylenol capsules crisis in 1982 could have been tragic for the company. However, Johnson & Johnson responded quickly by pulling Tylenol off the shelves and getting involved with the Chicago Police, the FDA and the FBI in looking for the perpetrator.  The PR plan put in effect by the company was a smart move.  Johnson & Johnson first alerted the nation, via media, to immediately stop using all Tylenol products until the problem could be identified and solved, making public health a number one priority.  This decision to place consumers first, over the company was the saving grace.  The company also reintroduced Tylenol with a new tamper-resistant package. The company’s response was considered the most successful in crisis management history.

A crisis plan should always be available, just in case something damaging pops up. With a plan in place, you’ll be prepared with a series of immediate measures to respond to each situation appropriately and adequately. There should also be a crisis management team set up to gather information and decide on the company’s position. It’s important to think before acting. Members of a crisis management team need to define the problem, assess who will be affected and project how the situation may play out. For the most part, overcoming a PR crisis is based on commonsense principles. The team must have a service-minded mentality, technical skills and the ability to form a solution that puts out the crisis.

If you’re interested in crisis management, a public relations degree can put you on the path to a more satisfying career. To learn more, visit the George Washington University online.

Bernstein Crisis Management