What springs to mind when you hear ‘no comment’? If you’re like us, ‘Guilty!’ is the first thought. In spite of their brevity, those two words give rise to all manner of suspicion, leading you to believe the speaker has something substantial to hide – or doesn’t actually care.
You might think it can’t happen to you, but the irony is that the more press coverage you get and the better known you become, the greater chance you have of attracting negative publicity.
If a communications crisis happens to you and you find yourself ‘guilty as charged’, saying nothing or sidestepping the fact by refusing to comment can wreak havoc on your reputation. But responding in the right way can turn a PR crisis into a great opportunity to showcase your values and distinct offering.
Here are our top tips for responding to a PR crisis:
Don’t leave it too long
Ideally, when faced with challenging questions, a quick reply is best if you want to allay confusion and avoid rumours spreading. Without a timely response, you may be quoted as having given ‘no comment’ even if you haven’t uttered the words. But don’t rush to refute or deny an allegation if you’re unsure of the facts – that will only compound the situation.
If you’re caught on the spot with no prior knowledge of the allegation, try saying: ‘I’m afraid I’m unable to talk about that’ or ‘I don’t have the authority to speak about the matter at this time’ – either of which will, after all, be true.
Don’t pretend to know
Pretending to know the answer will definitely come back to bite you, but saying that you’re not aware of the incident will give the impression that you are unprofessional and inept. If you need to confirm details to be sure of your position, respond with a ‘holding statement’, something along the lines of: ‘We are taking this matter very seriously and thoroughly investigating the case.’
Use it as an opportunity to reinforce dedication to your brand values: ‘We are committed to our customers’ confidentiality and peace of mind and are doing everything we can to ensure our standards are being upheld.’
Making sure your team are fully briefed on what has happened and how they should respond is also paramount.
Don’t try and cover it up
If a customer leaves a negative review or tweets something negative about your company, ignoring it or deleting it will only make matters worse – particularly if the complaint relates to poor customer service. By quickly responding and showing concern for their experience and offering them an opportunity to discuss it further, you can turn things around and improve the chances of retaining your customer’s loyalty.
Own up to it
Admitting that you’ve made a mistake is far better than downplaying what has happened. You’re only human after all, and even the most successful businesses make mistakes. The key is to show that you’ve learned from the experience: you should acknowledge what has happened, outline the steps you’re taking to put things right, and say what you’re doing to ensure the incident doesn’t happen again.
This is also a good opportunity to reiterate the importance of values such as integrity, exceptional service, security or safety to your business.
Don’t leave it there
Make sure you address any issues within your team that may have led to the incident. Improving your internal communications or training processes will help prevent further incidents occurring and employees will be reassured by your commitment to the brand.
Externally, start focusing on your next positive news story or social media campaign. For example, if you’re supporting a local cause or signing up to a new Quality Assurance scheme, getting press coverage can help you feel more positive – and it means a story about your failings won’t be the first thing people see when they Google you.
Plan for the future
Really the best tip we can give is to plan ahead; having a robust crisis communications plan in place will ensure you are well placed to respond if the worst happens. By identifying and training key spokespeople within your company, defining your key messages and establishing a process for responding to crises, you’ll go a long way to minimising the impact of negative PR – and you might even be able to turn it into a positive opportunity.