How to handle a PR disaster

Persuasion Communications founder Jane Austin discusses what it takes to recover from a PR crisis – and how brands can avoid bumbling into one in the first place

Once upon a time, brands could cover up their mistakes. Off-colour remarks from the CEO, adverts made in poor taste and any other embarrassing gaffes could largely be smoothed over, with the majority of the public none the wiser. Thanks to the internet, today that’s no longer possible.

Now news spreads faster than ever, so when a brand like Peloton makes an alarmingly sexist bike ad, Rio Tinto destroys an Aboriginal site, or The Ivy Asia releases a racist promo video, they find themselves – and rightly so – an immediate subject of public fury.

These days, PR crises can take many forms, says Jane Austin, founder of PR agency Persuasion Communications. “It could be an ill-thought-out tweet in the heat of the moment, a real core issue inside a company where staff and the public are talking about it, or something like bad service or a lack of supply for demand,” she tells CR. “There’s a lot of reasons why a less-than-appealing message can emerge and grow in volume in ways that can be damaging.”