The Importance of Transparency in a PR Crisis
by Morgan Cruz, Marketing Content Coordinator, MHI | @mhi_morgan
2016 has already seen it’s fair share of PR crises, such as outrage at the Cincinnati Zoo, boycotts at the Oscars, and controversy with Apple Computers. Real-time sharing on social media has made it much harder for companies to control the story and protect their brand. Last year I stressed the value of brand authenticity and took a closer look at how social media has effected American culture and even personal brands. Today I want to address the importance of transparency in handling a PR crisis and present steps to protect your brand.
Tell your story before the media creates their own.
Social media is the greatest tool of empowerment for the public, even for the smallest voices. It allows for transparency and facilitates dialog about anything and everything. Ronn Torossian, CEO of 5WPR, explains “In today’s media world, a critical key to dealing with crises is getting a hold of it before the social media commentators and news creators make their story – the story.” Apple did just this after the mass shooting in San Bernardino. After the tragedy, the FBI commanded for Apple to unlock the iPhone belonging to perpetrator, Syed Farook. This would require writing a new version of the iOS operating system – minus certain security measures. The technique would be used over again and act like a master key, able access information from banks, stores, businesses and homes. When they learned of the potential uses for this software, many Apple consumers became fearful and upset, claiming it was violation of the first amendment. The company immediately addressed the situation by releasing a press release to let iPhone users know that they would be resisting the request. In doing this, Apple also let the government know that this fight includes the people as well. What the company did well was take a quick and clear stance while being transparent and loyal to their customers. They left little room for doubt and in return they leveraged the voices of millions of Apple users.
Alleviate fears immediately through talk and action.
Talk: Educate Your Audience
During a PR crisis, companies must act to alleviate the fears of their customers through talk and action. Talk allows companies to deliver the facts and let their consumer in on what’s really going on. This act of transparency calms feelings of anger and fear and is a way to gain trust. For example, let’s look at the incident that happened with the gorilla Harambe at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden. On May 28, 2016, a four year old boy climbed into an enclosure with Harambe and was then thrown around and dragged by the 450-pound male gorilla. In an effort to save the boy’s life the Zoo shot and killed Harambe. Animal rights activists and social media users were quick to criticize the Zoo’s actions, creating a huge PR crisis. The Cincinnati Zoo director, Thane Maynard made a post on Facebook addressing the incident: “We are heartbroken about losing Harambe, but a child’s life was in danger and a quick decision had to be made by our Dangerous Animal Response Team.” An article from PRNews titled Cincinnati Zoo Highlights Transparency Amid Gorilla Crisis explains that “by recognizing the tragedy of losing a member of a highly endangered species, but also standing by the quick thinking that ultimately saved a young life, Maynard doesn’t try to ignore either side of the incident, and instead puts everything on the table.” The zoo also went on to describe why they did not choose to use tranquilizers and addressed the safety concerns about the enclosure. It became evident that the Zoo made a well-thought out decision and this transparency showed patrons a commitment to upholding the trust they’ve built in the community. Transparency in PR helped the Zoo show that they are still a credible and respectable attraction and prevented further fallout.
Action: What are you doing to fix the problem?
Sometimes talking about the crisis is not enough. To prove a company is taking a certain situation seriously, they must tell what actions are being taken to implement change. The 2016 Oscars found themselves in this situation after not a single minority actor was nominated for an award, yet again. The Oscars received backlash for the lack of diversity in nominees and awards winners. Some choose to boycott the event and #OscarsSoWhite started trending on Twitter. They were forced to implement change, especially since nothing seemed to improve from the 2015 awards. The Biggest PR Crises Of 2016 So Far (And What Brands Can Learn From Them) reports, “The changes they aim to bring could bring in an influx of new voting members from more diverse backgrounds into the group before the next voting opportunity early in 2017.” What the Oscars could do better is further educate their audience on how the voting works and who all is involved.
Again, the more transparent a company or organization can be, the better connection their customer will have with their brand.