In 1991 Gerald Ratner, CEO of a successful chain of jewellery stores, stood up to make a speech to the Institute of Directors. Whether it was a moment of arrogance or a joke gone wrong we may never know, but he told his audience that his merchandise was poor quality, and mocked his own customers for buying it. It cost him his job, wiped £500 million off the value of his company, and ‘doing a Ratner’ entered the lexicon as shorthand for disastrous self-sabotage.
It’s unlikely that you’ll ever do anything quite that spectacular, but things do go wrong, and it can be costly. Company reputation can be easily damaged. It takes a long time to build up trust and develop a good name in the industry, and a badly handled mistake can undo years of hard work.
Sooner or later, even the most professional of outfits can slip up, but that’s when the true character of a company shines through. If you handle a mistake well, and put it right honestly, it can actually help to build your reputation.
So let’s just review the basics of dealing with a PR crisis. Because when things go wrong, it’s vital that you deal with it in the right way:
- Be honest, right from the start. Don’t let anyone accuse you of covering anything up or of trying to shift responsibility onto someone else.
- Frankly admit the fault, and explain why it went wrong. If you don’t know what went wrong, commit to finding out so that you can make good, and so that you can avoid it happening again.
- Explain what you are going to do about it, both to fix the problem and to make up for any inconvenience caused.
- Keep in touch with the client during the process of making things right. The worst thing to do is go quiet on a stressed out client – that’s a guaranteed way to scotch any repeat business.
- At the end, explain ‘this is what we have done’, ensure the client is content with the outcome, and make sure that the case is closed to everyone’s satisfaction.
Most people will accept an honest response to a problem. They are well aware that they themselves make mistakes, and need the same kind of forbearance from others.
Good firms pay a lot of attention to restoring a good relationship when a difficulty has occurred. And they spend a lot on PR when a job goes wrong.
Embarrassing though it may be, there is the upside: if something does go wrong, but the company handles it well, this can actually serve to enhance the company’s reputation.
So take heart, learn from your mistakes, and remember that even Gerald Ratner bounced back.
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