Norfolk Business Awards 2018

How to cope with a PR crisis – according to East Anglian experts

KFC ran into PR trouble after deliveries of chicken were disrupted. Picture Yui Mok/PA Wire.

KFC ran into PR trouble after deliveries of chicken were disrupted. Picture Yui Mok/PA Wire.

Press Association

In our busy and fast-paced world, brand is king – and with social media continually speeding up the news cycle reputations can be made, or lost, in hours.

KFC and Oxfam have recently found themselves at the mercy of public opinion after vastly different, but equally disastrous, events within their operations.

The example of United Airlines – which suffered a PR nightmare last year after a video showing a passenger being assaulted by security officials went viral – shows giants can fall, but what makes the difference between recovery and ruin?

Karen Thornber is an HR strategist from Norwich who has helped build the brands of international companies such as Aviva and Marks and Spencer.

For her the companies’ fame is key to their ability to bounce back. With a global charity like Oxfam, she says the actions of a “couple of bad apples” will not affect its brand value.

She said: “Is the Oxfam brand about the company’s behaviour or is it about the problems it is addressing?

“The public are more driven by the work the charity is doing than the brand. If people start pulling out on a matter of principle, the people it helps are still suffering.”

For KFC popularity will be the saviour, Ms Thornber says – as it was for JD Wetherspoon earlier this year after a supply issue stopped hundreds of its pubs supplying steak on Steak Night.

“It was just a bad day at the office for KFC. Fundamentally you cannot blame them for trying to get a better deal, that is the way businesses are run and it happened to go wrong on this occasion,” she said.

Paul Mackman, managing director of Sudbury-based communications agency Mackman Group and vice chair of the Eastern Board Chartered Institute of Marketing, said the swiftness with which news can now spread had made a fast response to negative press crucial.

“All organisations, from SMEs to global corporations, need to be prepared to respond to any type of PR crisis quickly and efficiently. The only way to do this properly is by being prepared and having a crisis plan in place,” he said.

Nick Farrow, director of creative marketing agency Farrows in Norwich, said “blasé” comments from senior individuals could pull a struggling company further into the mire.

“A well run company and brand should have its ear to the ground internally and externally and should know if any skulduggery is going on behind the scenes,” he said.

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