Crisis Communications: The Importance of Owning Up to Mistakes in Public Relations

By: Payton Otterman

When I tell people that I’m a public relations major, most of their knowledge of the profession is solely based on the idea that PR professionals fix public relations crises. While the entire profession isn’t built upon fixing crises, it is a big part of what we do. 

A public relations crisis is when any “negative event or review related to your business gains traction in the public sphere” (Caramela). In the age of social media, your brand’s seemingly simple mistake can immediately become public knowledge. 

An example of a PR crisis is 2019’s college admissions scandal. Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, along with others, were charged with fraud when they cheated the system to ensure that their children went to the college of their choosing. At the time, Loughlin was acting in “Fuller House,” Netflix’s reboot of “Full House,” and she was acting in Hallmark Channel movies. After the scandal, Hallmark dropped Loughlin and Netflix made the decision to continue production of “Fuller House” without her.

I get the purpose, but I’d think about changing it sense you already end the sentence with EVERY company should have a plan in place in case disaster strikes! If you’re not prepared, you’ll be scrambling to respond to the crisis in question, and your team may fail to craft the proper response. It’s important to identify your crisis communications team and identify and train your spokespeople. Knowing your audience is also important, because your team must understand who they’re communicating with and how they’re going to communicate that message. Lastly, it’s important to evaluate how well your team did in responding to the crisis. This will ensure that your team knows what to do next time crisis communications are needed.

No matter how big or small a PR crisis may be, it’s important to acknowledge and own up to your mistake. When owning up to your mistake, it’s important to be sincere. However, you’re going to need to put in a little more work than just apologizing – you’re going to have to tell the public what you’re going to change in order to prevent the same mistake from happening again. 

One of the biggest mistakes a PR team can make during a crisis is staying silent.  Although your legal or management team may want you to remain silent, you should try to go through the chain of command in order to change that. As a public relations professional, it is your job to apologize publicly if necessary.

Another mistake that professionals make is waiting too long to respond to backlash. Adrienne chance, the communications director for TrailRunner International, tells professionals that after brands acknowledge the impact their mistake has on people, sincerely apologize, and then “explain why the mistake happened and how it will be avoided in the future,” your brand needs to make a timely apology (Forbes).

Chance told Forbes Magazine, “The more time that passes before a company take these actions, the less meaningful they become. It’s critical for a brand to own its error before the audience owns the conversation” (Forbes). However, you must be sure not to give a response before knowing all of the facts involved in the situation.

At the end of the day, we’re all human and we ALL make mistakes. Apologizing and owning up to your mistakes can be difficult, but as professionals, we must be equipped with the skills so we properly respond when a crisis occurs.

Works Cited

Bernstein, J. (n.d.). The 10 steps of crisis communications. Bernstein Crisis Management.

Caramela, S. (2020, November 18). PR crisis? 6 steps to help navigate the storm. Business News Daily.

Forbes Communication Council. (2016, September 23). Six tips for responding after your brand makes a public mistake. Forbes.

Story, J. (2020, January 6). The biggest PR disasters of 2019. Ground Floor Media.

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