Crisis management needs you never knew you had

Kim Turner, president of PRSA Delaware

When someone thinks about crisis management for their company, they most likely go through a simple checklist:

• Is the workspace in our company safe?
• Do our products meet or exceed all quality standards?
• Have we provided training to all of our staff clearly outlining our non-discrimination, no-harassment policies?
• Have we put in place the “morality clause” for the celebrity spokesperson?
• Have we made sure the adults are the only ones with access to the company social media accounts?

Check, check, check, check, check. And with that, the executive turns to the management team and says, “We’re good — no need to worry about crisis management.”

There probably was a time when that executive would be fairly safe in that assumption, but those days are over.

Today, companies like New Balance, Wendy’s, Yuengling and Papa John’s find themselves working with crisis management professionals not because of complaints or accusations from customers, clients or staff — but because of endorsements. Specifically, endorsements from vocal white supremacists.

What do you do when your company is being embraced by organizations that you find personally abhorrent and you know will cause long-term harm to your brand?

This is a new dynamic in public relations and crisis communication.

While no one can control an endorsement from an unwelcomed source, there are measures that can be taken to potentially prevent such an endorsement from being taken seriously.

1. Create a public track record of the values your company embraces. This can be as simple as sharing social media posts supporting organizations and efforts that represent your company’s values (community events, mentorship programs, education, etc.) or as big as sponsoring events for those organizations.

2. Be aware of language, symbols and memes that are being used by various groups. Many groups are using certain words or images that seem innocent enough on the surface, but are actually being used as a signal to others that you subscribe to their beliefs — this was the case with Wendy’s, which didn’t realize that Pepe the frog was being used as a symbol for white nationalists when they tweeted an image of the frog with red pigtails.

3. If your company is endorsed by an undesirable source, take a moment to get all of the facts — why the endorsement occurred, the background of the source, etc. — then issue a statement clearly outlining your company’s values. It might be worth exploring a show of support for organizations committed to standing up for the values those unwanted endorsers oppose.

4. Follow through. Do not assume that the issue is over in a day, a week, or even a year. Continue to demonstrate the values your company embraces and keep an eye out for those individuals and organizations that can not only harm your brand, but pull our society backwards.

Whether you have a public relations professional on your staff or have outsourced those duties, now is the time to have the conversation about crisis management planning and evaluating where your brand stands in relation to policies, training and risks in the public domain.


Kim Turner is president of PRSA Delaware, the Delaware chapter of the Public Relations Society of America.

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