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In a Crisis? Your Organization’s Actions Truly Impact Public Perception

By Jason Mudd

by Jason Mudd, APR

The only thing worse than complete silence from an organization following a major event related to it is giving the wrong response. This is especially true in our era of rapid-fire social media responses, shared with millions over the course of minutes.

The public certainly has an emotional response to the news articles they read regarding various crises, from plane crashes to product recalls. The emotions readers experience impact their perceptions of the organization involved in the crisis, and PR firms can help strategically direct the tone of the articles written on the subject.

According to a study by researchers at the University of Missouri, certain strategies may help maintain the public image of organizations in the midst of a crisis better than others. The study focused on the reactions of news readers exposed to news articles that focused on specific topics related to incidents of crisis.

For instance, one group read articles that focused on the penalties an organization might face, court actions and who was to blame in a problematic case. A separate group read news articles that heavily involved the victims of the crisis and how they – and the organization involved – were handling this. The test subjects exposed to negative articles putting blame on the organization for the crisis held that organization in a much lower opinion.

When organizations reach out to help the victims and push a public relations strategy that focuses those efforts on the people involved, the public views that company in a more positive light. This is a familiar concept and is worth revisiting, as news stories and angles can quickly spin out of control with audience-directed social media. Putting a human face on a crisis should remain an organization’s top priority at the onset of a crisis, and this is one of the smart PR strategies top professionals hold onto in a flurry of posts, videos and comments.

Still, major companies continue to overlook the value of this strategy and make easily avoidable blunders that set them back.

One example is BP’s handling of the Deepwater Horizon explosion in 2010. BP executives, instead of focusing on how they would work to rectify the situation, went on a blame game tour. Executives said it was not their accident and placed blame squarely on the shoulders of contractors.

In a positive example, Lieutenant-General David Morrison, Australia’s Chief of Army, responded in a more people-first way to allegations of sexual assault against Army women. He addressed the issue almost immediately, rather than letting speculation take over. He used the event to reiterate the high principles that the Army expects of its enlisted men and women. Best yet, he was able to use his time in front of the camera to talk about the mission and values of the army and focus on the positives rather than pounding away at the potential charges against those involved.

If your organization is in the aftermath of a crisis, trust Axia Public Relations to help communicate a people-centered message that can avert a wave of negative backlash and steer the conversation. The time is now.

Jason Mudd, APR, is the CEO of Axia Public Relations and an Emmy-Award-winning accredited public relations practitioner, speaker, author and entrepreneur. His public relations portfolio includes work for established national brands such as American Airlines, Dave & Buster’s, Florida Blue, H&R Block, Hilton, HP, Miller Lite, New York Life, Pizza Hut, Ray Charles and Verizon, as well as emerging brands like Brightway Insurance, Pragmatic Works and It Works! Global.


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Topics: media relations, public relations, reputation management, crisis communications, online reputation management

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