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by Michelle Garrett, Consultant and Writer, Garrett Public Relations  

Brands in hot water – it happens FAR too often. CrossFit. L’Oreal. Burger King. Just a few of the brands that have faced a crisis in 2020. 

Each time one of these stories makes the news, the cry from PR pros everywhere can be heard – “Why didn’t they consult their public relations team BEFORE this happened?” 

In many cases, the mess they created could’ve been avoided had the brand consulted its resident PR pro. But, if the public relations team is brought in after the crisis has been created, there’s only so much they can do. After the fact, they need to struggle to salvage what’s left of the company’s reputation. 

And fast. More than half of consumers expect your business to respond to a crisis within an hour. More than a third say a brand should respond within 30 minutes. 

Gone are the days when the PR team could go back to the drawing board to devise a strategy to address the issue. The longer a brand waits to respond to a crisis – real or perceived – the less likely it is to be able to control the fallout. 

Today, when a crisis can quickly catch fire, organizations need to be sure that, just as legal counsel would be included, the public relations counsel also has a say when decisions are being made. 

So, let’s take a step back. What should brands do PR-wise BEFORE they make any statements or launch new campaigns? 


How Can We Help Ensure PR Is Brought Into the Mix Sooner? 

As more brands seem to be making news for things they probably wish they weren’t, they may begin to see the value of factoring PR in early and often. 

What can PR pros do to help ensure inclusion in the planning process? 

  • Make it known that you’re available as a sounding board. You can listen to an idea and give feedback based on how you think the audience might react. 
  • Speak up if you’re in a creative meeting in which things seem to be going south. Could it be that there were, in fact, PR people present in some of the meetings leading up to these debacles – and they just didn’t say anything? If something seems amiss, you should bring it up sooner rather than later. 
  • And work on your brand’s reputation before a crisis hits. That should be a continual effort. 


Tips to Avoid Creating a Crisis 

Follow these tips to keep your brand out of trouble and avoid clean-up duty: 

  • Don’t rush into a major campaign or announcement. Think it through. Be sure to plan out all aspects of the campaign.
  • Anticipate a crisis – ask, “What could go wrong if we do this?” and anticipate the worst-case scenario, so you can plan for that, too. 
  • Test the messaging. Can you do some simple focus group testing? Maybe conduct an online survey to gauge opinions? That may help you foresee any potential issues. 
  • Hire a diverse team, so you have many different voices represented when you’re making decisions. 
  • Foster a culture of open communication. This will help ensure that discussions flow openly, back and forth, and up and down the chain of command and departments involved.

“An organization that engages in regular, proactive, transparent communications with its stakeholders is in a stronger position to contain the damage done by a crisis,” says Beth Noymer Levine, SmartMouth Communications. 

Following this advice will help PR pros land on the strategic planning side of decisions – so they can put down the mop for a change. 


About the author: You’ll find Michelle Messenger Garrett at the intersection of PR, content marketing, and social media. As a public relations consultant, content creator, blogger, speaker and award-winning writer, Michelle’s articles and advice have been featured in Entrepreneur, Muck Rack, Ragan’s PR Daily, Spin Sucks, Freelancers Union and others. Her blog was named to the list of Top 25 Must-Read Public Relations Blogs and she was named one of the Top 13 Content Marketing Influencers to Follow in 2018.

 A version of this piece appeared previously on Muck Rack’s blog.