How to Handle a Public Relations Crisis

public relations crisis

Admit it: None of us are as graceful as we think we are. We’ve all “stepped in it” so-to-speak and sometimes, the results aren’t pretty. Whether we’re out for a run or walking within the confines of our home, we’ve all had a clumsy moment with unintended consequences. Likewise, no matter how appropriately you run your business, if you’ve been in business long enough, then you’re bound to receive publicity you don’t like.

Meet Nivia, the focus of today’s case study.

After releasing its “Re-Civilize Yourself” ad campaign, Nivia was criticized for undertones that many claimed were racist. The ad prominently featured a clean-shaven black man tossing away a head with an afro and facial hair, implying that he was throwing away his old-self to “Re-Civilize” himself.

Fortunately, Nivia has become a role model of how small businesses should handle a public relations crisis and negative PR situations, immediately apologizing through social media and other platforms. Nivia then removed the ad and suspended the campaign due to the widespread backlash.

If your business becomes the center of unwanted controversy and a public relations crisis, it’s important to know how to react.

Handle Your Public Relations Crisis with Grace

Avoid Knee-Jerk Reactions

Whether warranted or unwarranted, it’s important to remain calm while handling any sort of controversy online. If your brand did nothing wrong, such as Cheerios in their recent “Just Checking” ad (seen below), then there’s no reason to withdraw any of your campaigns or apologize for a wrongdoing.

However, if there’s legitimate dicey-ness such as in the Nivia campaign, you’ll certainly want to react as quickly as possible without a knee-jerk reaction.

Remember, an inappropriate response can cause more damage.

It’s Sometimes Better to Say Nothing

Sometimes it’s better to stay quiet and avoid making the situation worse than to try and give a lengthy explanation and apology.

Just like avoiding a knee-jerk reaction, sometimes less is more. Especially when your brand is under heightened scrutiny.

Be Aware Moving Forward

When it comes to new marketing strategies and campaigns, sometimes we get so excited in the potential value that we forget to consider any potential pitfalls. Just as you might trip while walking because you weren’t paying attention, many controversies happen because marketers didn’t fully consider or understand the dynamics of a campaign.

Ultimately, the best way to handle controversy is to prevent it. But just as Cheerios learned, sometimes controversy is unwarranted and can come swiftly from various sects of the online community.

By handling a public relations crisis and controversy appropriately and gracefully, your brand will be able to establish itself as one of the most professional in its industry.

Angry Mob Photo via Shutterstock


Amie Marse Amie Marse is the founder of a small content generation firm based in Lexington, KY. She’s been a passionate freelance writer turned business owner for over 7 years. Her philosophy is that the essentials of content marketing do not change from the small business to the Fortune 500 level, and that creativity trumps budget every time.

10 Reactions
  1. A public apology is the best way to handle this situation, nothing more. Making excuses will just make it worse as it might bring even more reactions to this sensitive issue. Personally, there’s nothing wrong with the context of the photo, but they could have used a different term.

  2. I’m wondering if big companies test their ads out with a select number of people before rolling it out. I’m wondering if Nivia did — because if they did, maybe the uproar could have been avoided because those select group would have hopefully relayed that kind of feedback as to the insensitivity of the ad.

    It’s also making me wonder who’s on their staff (their cultural backgrounds) for them to come up with that idea and not see it was a problem.

  3. I think sometimes, the best way to handle a controversy is just ignore it so that fires are not flamed further. Let it cool down and die naturally. People will forget and move on with their life.

    A public apology might help it it is warranted.

    • Really depends on what the sometimes controversy is. Keeping silent may be worse (and may backfire) as it may be seen as an admission of guilt. In some cases, even an apology might not work depending on the weight of the controversy and the content/sincerity of the apology.

  4. Great points Amie. I think a lot of the time it’s about using your common sense to assess what’s best for the particular situation. Most of the time an apology should be the first port of call (provided their has been some wrongdoing) as otherwise things could get a lot worse. Anyone who thinks they don’t need to apologise or, worse still, thinks their business is immune to disasters like this are walking a thin tightrope.

  5. I think typically, the best thing is to handle an issue is simply ignore it so fires aren’t flamed any. Let it cool down and die naturally. Individuals can forget and advance with their life.

  6. Sometimes, it doesn’t pay to be defensive. It will not work out anything. Instead, you can admit or try to reverse what has been done. Let’s say you had a tragedy where some people are injured in your company. What you can do is visit them in the hospital and offer them compensation. Some business owners do this. In fact, even CEOs do this just for the sake of their company. It is all about your desire to help and not about how you want to defend yourself.

  7. The best thing to do is respond quickly but do not respond without thinking. Too many franchise PR people think that responding quickly means using the first thing that comes to your mind.

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