PR Disaster Scenarios That Can Actually Be…Helpful?

We’ve all heard our older, wiser mentors tell us that errors and failures are just a learning experience in disguise. But, boy is that the last thing you want to hear that when you’re smack in the middle of a PR disaster!

Fortunately, as with most things in life, our elders are right. Read this post for a little perspective the next time a PR disaster strikes.

The Social Media Troll

Anybody who has worked in PR for any length of time has experienced him – the social media troll who hates your business and just won’t be appeased. He’ll show up on Twitter, Facebook, Planet Feedback, and even Ravelry, the social network for knitters (of all places), complaining about your company. You’ve tried to appease him with gift certificates, but nothing works.

What would grandma say? Ignore him. And she’s right. There are some people there’s no reasoning with, and if this internet troll has rebuffed your good-natured attempts to rectify his hatred for your company, you’ve done what you can do. Unfortunately, internet trolls can follow you from forum to forum, and other members of your audience can read what he has to say. Fortunately, internet trolls generally show their true colors pretty quickly, and your average internet citizen has a pretty sharp troll-detection-sense.

The Company Gaffe

This PR disaster can be much harder to handle than the random internet troll, mainly because of the guilt associated – you messed up! You know it’s your fault! Maybe you insulted a freelance writer you stole content from, like Cook’s Source Magazine, or maybe you complained about your difficult life while your oil well gushed animal and economy-killing oil into the gulf, like BP CEO Tony Hayward. Either way, you goofed.

What would grandma say? Do better next time. Fortunately, grandma loves you and is willing to give you a second chance, even if she may be disappointed in you for a while. The same goes with your audience. Keep calm, carry on and exhibit your best behavior from now on. It works with grandma, and it will work with your audience, too.

Have you ever found yourself in the middle of a PR disaster that turned into a learning opportunity? Tell us about it in the comments!

Great post Mickey and yes I’ve been smack in the middle of several “pr disasters” that became learning experiences. Nothing as dramatic as spilling huge amounts of oil in the gulf, but sweat and stress producing never the less.

PR disasters in our social, connected and fast times are inevitable. It is easy to have the meme we want to create, “We Are Good” become “You Are Bad”. We live by three basic rules of pr disaster avoidance and/or relief:

1. Never cause more harm than good (also known as a Streisand effect). Never defend or pick a fight since to do so is throwing gasoline on the fire as the singer discovered when she wanted to remove some bad PR (her attempts blew it up further).

2. Be honest and do the right thing, but be willing to listen and learn too (sometimes THEIR right thing and OUR right thing are not as far off as they seem).

3. Have conversations where we want to have them. If an argument erupts on Facebook we would move it to our blog. If great Q&A hit our blog we may move it to our Facebook page. Knowing where we want to have WHAT types of conversation (and why) make it easier to get the content we want where we want it.

Controlling the venue helps control the thread. By moving an argument to our blog or G+ page we know there are advocates there who can help. We aren’t in the business of arguing, but we have brand advocates who will help defend (if that is needed).

We find having unpaid brand advocates speak to their experience quiets the riot :). And yes there are some “trolls” that will never be satisfied, but turning one of those from negative to positive makes a lifelong advocate. Rare but “turning a troll” can happen with patience and great listening skills.

WOW customer service may be needed to. Getting on a plane and visiting them with a replacement hand delivered and sitting and listening never hurts. The cool thing about those kinds of “urban legend” customer service heroic events is 1. they last forever 2. they can define a brand and 3. the sad fact that WOW customer service is so rare makes it valuable beyond its costs (well beyond).

Thanks for all of your great posts, ideas and newsletters about the NEW PR. You guys ROCK.


Martin Smith
Story of Cancer Foundation


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