When you work in PR, crisis communications is a part of the job. It’s something you build into your work with clients as seamlessly as you do copywriting or media pitching. We are used to navigating crises big and small, real or simulated, on a daily basis, so it’s interesting when the wider world seems to take notice of these crises, missteps, whatever you want to call them, and puts them in the spotlight. Which has happened recently, if you’ve been living under a rock and haven’t seen any of the MAJOR BRAND SCREWS UP AND OFFENDS MILLIONS headlines. There have been so many hold my beer memes to come out of this that we may as well buy a keg and throw a party for the demise of public relations. Or should we?
We’re not sure exactly which straw broke the camel’s back this time and made brand in crisis the latest trendy headline. Perhaps it’s the consistent cloud of instability coming from what should be one of the most stable brands in America, the Presidency. Just a theory. But the reality is, companies and brands are consistently missing the mark and having to regroup in large and small ways. But it’s not always part of the public consciousness to be on high alert for these mistakes.
Let’s take the fallout from the recent airline communications crises as an example. United has a passenger incident go viral, and all of a sudden we see similar outcries over passenger treatment on every other major airline (Delta, American Airlines, Southwest). Has every airline employee and passenger suddenly decided that there are no rules? Or are we simply more tuned in to misconduct right now, because the 24 hour news cycle and social media have put it all in our collective consciousness? Whether right or wrong, customer service and brand communication issues like this are happening all around us, but can usually be solved quietly because no one is taking out their iPhone to immediately capture the fallout. Airlines are not so lucky at the moment, but the benefit of the 24 hour news cycle is that another industry will be in the spotlight next week. It’s a double-edged sword that way. Brands are now under more intensive scrutiny, but for shorter periods of time. You have to be careful what you tweet, but there is some twisted comfort in knowing that someone will always be behind you with the next insensitive remark.
So no, the pr pros at the biggest brands didn’t all decide to throw in the towel at the same time. They are still there, working to put out small fires every day. Occasionally those small fires become bigger, and we’re here to cover that too. We’ll even hold your beer for you while we do so.