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What We Can Learn from Huge, Public PR Crises

It’s certainly been a hectic few weeks for the corporate communicators and PR pros. Where to begin? Pepsi’s tone-deaf commercial? United’s trio of non-apologies? Sean Spicer’s epically disastrous White House press conferences? The subject of crisis communication training from these potentially reputation-altering disasters has been explored in depth over the last several days – PR Daily and PR News have good examples, if you’re curious.

What’s most interesting to me is how the PR discipline and profession is at the center of the news cycle. Suddenly, people are in tune to how mega corporations such as Pepsi and United “spin” controversial topics. Crisis communication is publically discussed, and everyone is a critic. This can be nerve-wracking for those of us who work in PR and represent different clients – the dawning realization that we’re all just one misstep away from being under a microscope.

So what can we learn from this? As PR pros, we have to conduct ourselves (and instruct our clients to conduct themselves) as if they’re always on the verge of the whole country seeing inside their operation. We need to push our clients to move toward proactive diversity in their executive team and company representation. We should be the gatekeepers of spin, ensuring that we never let the truth run away from us. And finally, if a mistake happens, we need to make sure that the apology is genuine.

The chances of one of our clients running into a major international PR crisis is slim, but most businesses will deal a public problem of some size at some point. The difference between our clients and mega brands such United or Pepsi is that our clients don’t have the firepower of a multibillion dollar brand behind them – it’s up to us, their PR representatives, to handle the situation as ethically as possible. Let’s let these big stories serve as a reminder to review crisis communication plans and rededicate ourselves to ensuring that telling truthful stories is at the center of our PR strategies.


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