Building a brand from the ground up can be very rewarding. However, it takes a lot of hard work and usually, a lot of time.
Unfortunately, an unexpected PR crisis can ruin a brand overnight. This can be devastating, especially when the crisis is caused by events unrelated to your company.
This is what happened to the UK dry herb vaporizer company, Vape Elevate. Last summer, a mysterious vaping illness swept the USA. Eventually, this illness was linked to a company selling illicit E-Liquid. Unfortunately for Vape Elevate, this illicit company shared a name with one of its brands; Dank Vapes.
Eventually, customers in the UK were becoming confused between the two unrelated brands and sales were greatly affected.
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We spoke to Cara Robinson, Customer Experience Manager at Vape Elevate to find out what lessons she learned responding to a PR crisis.
Act quickly and preempt any damaging news
To this day, Cara’s biggest regret is not preempting the public relations crisis by communicating as soon as possible with her customers
“We were fully aware that a company sharing our name was being linked to the vaping illness. However, because it was happening over 2000 miles away and our sales were unaffected we decided to ignore it – much to our regret”.
By not acting quickly, customers are left to draw their conclusions of events. Even if the conclusions are wrong, it can still be damaging for business.
Cara agrees “Had we not buried our heads in the sand, we could have prevented our customers from confusing our brand with the illicit vaping brand.”
Put yourself in your customer’s shoes
One thing that Vape Elevate did get right was putting themselves in their customer’s shoes.
“We quickly found that anyone searching for our brand on Google would be presented with stories about people falling ill. This is the last thing you want to read when shopping. It was then we knew we had to rebrand.”
By viewing the brand as a customer would, Cara’s team was able to identify exactly where the crisis lay and ensure they came up with the response that best met their customer’s needs.
Have a communications plan
Once a plan of action has been decided upon, the entire team must be singing from the same hymn sheet.
Social Media is increasingly likely to be the first port of call for confused, angry and inquisitive customers. During a PR crisis, any responses customers or press receive should be predetermined and approved by senior management. It’s important to not allow any employees to go rogue.
Sending out a mass email to your customer database is another great way to manage communications. This is exactly what Vape Elevate did as Cara recalls:
“We announced our brand change by sending an email simultaneously to our customers, our suppliers, and the press. It gave us control of the narrative and we were able to reposition the brand change as exciting.”
Top Tips For Handling A PR Crisis
It’s a worst-case scenario that can befall even the most prestigious organization: a public relations crisis. From a string of bad reviews to a serious financial scandal, a negative incident can have a powerful impact on a company’s reputation — no matter how small or diplomatic it is. That’s why it’s critical for every business to have a reaction plan in place. Here are some do’s and don’ts when navigating a PR crisis.
In today’s digital age, news can go viral almost instantly. The implementation of a swift and effective crisis management plan is essential. An organization should address the issue head-on, whether it’s with an apology, an explanation or an announcement. If an immediate, informative response is not possible, the business should at least communicate that it’s looking into the issue and give a reason as to why there will be a delay. Above all else, it’s important to take responsibility for what happened.
Before sending representatives to address the media, make sure they fully understand the response strategy and are given enough information to answer questions. If time allows, set up a practice session to ensure they are prepared. Emphasize that the company’s message must be consistent across multiple channels.
Refrain from saying “no comment,” as these are two of the most damaging words in PR. Shutting down communication leaves a gap for others to fill, and what they say may be worse than the truth. If an organization is waiting for more information, it should let the public know that it is working on a response or a reaction to the situation.
For more tips on how to handle a PR crisis, see the accompanying infographic.