We’re living in a time of company callouts. Companies are speaking more frequently on social and political issues because some customers want to purchase from, and partner with, businesses that take stands. Yet one wrong move and social media will blast a company for statements perceived as clueless or hypocritical.
When brands misstep, coverage focuses on the resulting nightmare to such an extent that PR has become synonymous with crisis communication. As PR pros, our focus should be building, not fixing. Crisis communication is vital, but it can be a much smaller component if we help companies build identities and tell stories transparently.
Here are basics PR pros can use.
Focus on key values
Priorities and values should define a company. So, help companies analyze their values and craft messaging that illustrates them. From there, companies should choose issues to comment on carefully. Again, their values should guide them.
Sometimes, it's best for companies to remain quiet externally and work on an issue internally. For example, forming ERGs and/or conducting training on a particular topic.
In all cases, companies should avoid commenting externally on an issue that they’ve failed to work on internally.
Maintain consistency across channels
Make sure you are telling stories about who the company is through a combination of earned, paid and owned content. PR pros should encourage companies to employ various channels to carry messages that reflect their values, whether through a public statement or blog post.
Regardless of the position a company takes, make sure it’s reflected consistently–from social media profiles to executive bios to thought leadership content. This will signal a strong commitment and true integration of a company's culture.
A human face
Don’t make everything about the company. Find opportunities to amplify stories of individuals within a community–employees, customers and partners–to show the human face behind the brand. In addition, consistently evaluate your bench of subject-matter experts to ensure that more diverse voices are heard beyond the company's executive team.
Transparency is a critical component of brand credibility. PR teams can help brands achieve it. When companies take a stand for a worthy cause, it can backfire.
An example is how Burger King U.K. got grilled for a tweet stating “Women belong in the kitchen.” It was meant to turn a sexist notion on its head and promote a culinary scholarship. After an outcry, the chain deleted the tweet and apologized.
When companies are upfront about goals, own their mistakes promptly and offer ways to fix them, they can uphold values and build trust with stakeholders.
Walk the talk
To help companies avoid making empty promises, communicators should encourage them to assess internal policies before issuing broad statements. For example, if a company wants to improve DE&I, suggest auditing its Glassdoor or compiling an employee survey to implement internal feedback first.
From there, help the company harness the focus and passion in the work it’s doing internally and extend it externally. For example, it can create a partnership in the community or amplify relevant nonprofits on social media.
As PR pros, we help those we represent thrive. In this moment we need to work to build company identities through effective storytelling. We must encourage companies to back up spoken promises with action and transparency. Although crisis communication is part of PR, we aren’t here to cover up mistakes. Ultimately, we should be brand builders, not fixers.
Pam Anderson is a senior lead at Next PR