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When Public Scrutiny Requires Crisis Communications

April 9, 2013

It’s a type of public relations that any public relations professional can come across. Some firms focus specifically on this tough topic. Other firms have specialists. Some hate it and others love the challenge. Regularly referred to as Crisis Communications, enterprises, small businesses, celebrities and consumer brands can all be affected by a crisis and are smart to prepare a plan in case of an emergency.

Crisis communications is defined as a sub-specialty of public relations. It is designed to protect and defend an individual, company, or organization that’s facing public challenge to its reputation. Some recognizable crisis communications at its finest include: Richard Branson’s Virgin, Chick-fil-A, Bill Clinton, Chris Brown after his altercation with Rihanna, and even motorcycle guru Jesse James after his affair while married to Sandra Bullock.

After the online release of a couple offensive ads for the Ford Figo hatchback, Ford Motors has become the latest victim of scrutiny, media backlash, and in immediate need for crisis communications. The advertisements showed former Italian Prime Minister flashing a peace sign in the front of the vehicle with three women bound and gagged in the rear. Another ad portrayed characters of the Kardashian sisters bound and tied up in the back of the car, while a Paris Hilton look-a-like drove the car with the tagline: “Leave your worries behind with Figo’s extra-large boot.”

Ford FigoAlthough, the advertisers who created these ads have been relieved of their jobs, the damage has been done. The public has voiced its opinion and Ford is hearing comments such as: “I will never buy a Ford” and “I will try to never sit in a Ford again.” After all the hard work the automotive industry in the United States has done to keep strong during the recession, from a PR perspective the goal would be to quickly repair Ford’s image and prevent this from setting the company back. Immediately, a carefully drafted public apology on the matter was released by Ford on Monday – the first step of a crisis communication plan. The advertising agency responsible for the ads released an explanation, saying the “distasteful” posters were never intended for paid publication and were not requested by Ford. Regardless if they were requested or not, it did force Ford to speak up and ensure they are taking this seriously and will make sure nothing like this ever happens again.

Issues with public images can occur anytime, whether a crisis is predicted and prepared for, or comes out of the blue – such as with Ford Motors. In either case, an effective crisis communications plan is critical for your public relations team to prepare. You never know when it might need to be applied.

During challenging times, you need a communications team that thinks on its feet and offers viable solutions. The key is to move quickly and get underneath the issues, develop scenarios and contingency plans, and undertake actions to mitigate the fallout from crises. Do you have a plan in place?

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