The importance of well-planned crisis communications

PR is all about how a company is perceived and how the public reacts to their actions. Therefore, during times of crisis, the behaviour of a company or an individual is all the more pivotal to their reputation.

This month, Storm Desmond hit areas of North East and North West England leaving thousands of people stranded, homeless and without power.  During this period of devastation we witnessed something quite humbling; a number of local companies and organisations responding to the chaos with charity. Whether intentional or not, these charitable acts are incredibly good PR for a company; here are a few of Storm Desmond’s unsung PR heroes:

  • Family-favourite Morrison’s was one of the companies that put themselves forward to help those worse affected. They sent out convoys of lorries packed with supplies to crisis centres, an action which, in the same week that saw them dropping out of FTSE 100, provided some much-needed good PR.
  • Another company that shone despite the devastation was Electricity North West (ENW). Through no fault of their own, at least 60,000 homes lost power over the weekend, a situation which, if badly handled, could have been catastrophic for ENW’s reputation. Somehow, however, they managed to come out as the heroes. Not only did they provide a continual stream of updates via social media, they worked around the clock to restore power and gave out free food to those in need. The actions of ENW reflect how good customer service, supported by excellent social media engagement can propel a brand to hero status!

However with every hero there must be a villain. Those who did not provide such great service over the last week received some rather negative feedback on social media:

  • While companies like National Grid donated sandbags and equipment, B&Q continued to charge for sandbags, a decision that didn’t go down well with Cumbrian residents. Some Twitter users even used the hashtag #PRfail! Despite later offering sandbags free of charge, it would appear that the damage was already done.

These examples serve as a reminder of just how fragile a company’s reputation is in today’s society. In a modern era where news is shared across social media platforms within minutes, a carefully thought out crisis communication plan is essential for any company, no matter how big or small.