PR Crisis? We’ve Got Your Back

PR Crisis? We’ve Got Your Back

The Gist

  • Key role. A crisis communication team is crucial for active monitoring and quick, aligned response in crisis.
  • Ongoing preparation. Don’t wait for a crisis; assemble, train and engage your CCT, and establish response protocols.
  • Custom approach. No one-size-fits-all plan exists; each crisis requires a unique response rooted in proactivity, assertiveness and opportunity.

A social media PR crisis response plan is a strategic framework that guides a business or organization on handling unexpected negative situations or publicity on social media platforms. The goal is to mitigate the damage to the brand’s reputation and reestablish trust with its audience. This article will delve into the details of a social media PR crisis response plan, why a brand should have such a plan in place and how businesses have handled a social PR crisis of their own.

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How Does One Define a PR Crisis?

A social public relations (PR) crisis is defined as a situation or event that threatens a brand’s or organization’s reputation, primarily due to negative or harmful discussions, comments, or the spread of information (or misinformation) on social media platforms. This can escalate due to the rapid and vast dissemination of information in the digital age. 

Most of the time, a social media PR crisis is not due to actions from a brand itself, but rather, they occur because of statements or actions by an influencer that the brand has partnered with. Occasionally, a brand gets into PR trouble through its actions or statements, and in some cases, due to the public misunderstanding the actions of the brand. 

This happened in the case of Uber, which in 2017 was the target of a hashtag #DeleteUber campaign. This occurred as a result of Uber’s response to Donald Trump’s controversial immigration order, when enraged customers demanded that Uber delete their accounts, and then took their campaign to Facebook and Twitter to suggest that their friends do so as well.

This was the result of a huge misunderstanding, and was inspired by Uber’s decision to disable surge pricing at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport in response to a taxi drivers’ strike which was spurred by Trump’s immigration order, which Uber put in place to avoid being seen as profiting from tragedy. In this case, protestors mistakenly believed that Uber was profiting from the strike, which was the opposite of what happened — Uber’s response meant that they were likely to carry fewer passengers from JFK. Although Uber publicly stated that their intention was to not profit during a strike, they were unable to turn public opinion enough to matter, as they went on to state that the negative campaign caused them to lose hundreds of thousands of app users.

Notable PR Crises in the News

There are many notable cases where a PR campaign has gone horribly wrong, and all one has to do is watch the news to hear about the latest debacle. Here are two of the most notable PR crises. 

Bud Light – In April 2023, Bud Light sent the influencer known as Dylan Mulvaney several Bud Lights, one of which featured her image. In response, Mulvaney posted a video of herself dressed like Holly Golightly from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Because Mulvaney, who has 10 million followers on TikTok, is a transgender woman, some conservatives got in an uproar, posting videos of themselves pouring out cans of Bud Light, and tossing cases into the trash. Celebrities even got into the debate, with Kid Rock shooting cases of Bud Light with an assault rifle, and Travis Tritt banning Bud Light from his concert tour. All this came at a time when trans rights, and trans issues in general, were at a boiling point for many right-wing politicians and activists.

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The fiasco resulted in Anheuser-Busch putting two marketing executives on leave and canceling an April event in Missouri due to safety concerns for its employees. More importantly for the brand, Anheuser-Busch lost $27 billion in market value, and its market cap lost $6.33 billion between April 3 and April 22. Bud Light also suffered a 17% drop in sales since the partnership with Mulvaney, which began as part of a sweepstakes challenge where people could win $15,000 by submitting videos of themselves holding Bud Light beers.

Anheuser-Busch released a somewhat disingenuous statement from its CEO, Brendan Whitworth, on April 14, stating that he is “responsible for ensuring every consumer feels proud of the beer we brew.” The statement then went on to discuss the many fans of Bud Light, explaining that “We have thousands of partners, millions of fans and a proud history supporting our communities, military, first responders, sports fans and hard-working Americans everywhere.” Finally, the statement got to the point, and said that “We never intended to be part of a discussion that divides people. We are in the business of bringing people together over a beer.” 

The statement did little to calm the outraged conservatives, and instead angered many LGBTQ+ customers and supporters, as it neither denied or affirmed support for trans people nor stood up against the hatred that many former customers showed toward the transgender influencer at the heart of the debate. 

The Bud Light debacle is a good example of a PR campaign gone wrong, as well as an ineffective response to the crisis, one that Anheuser-Busch is still reeling from. Over the July Fourth holiday, for the first time, Bud Light was not the top choice for any state in the US. Additionally, in mid-July, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said that Florida may file a lawsuit against Anheuser-Busch over the alleged breach of duties by “subsidizing an ideological agenda through woke virtue signaling.”

Adidas – In 2022, musical artist Kanye West, now known as Ye, made antisemitic comments on his social media accounts, discussed antisemitic conspiracy theories with (former) Fox News host Tucker Carlson, and then threatened violence against Jews on social media. On October 8th, West posted the following inexcusable post on Twitter:

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On October 25th, Adidas ended its partnership with Ye, followed by Gap and then Foot Locker, both of which said they would immediately remove Yeezy products from their stores. Not long after, Foot Locker released the following statement:

“Foot Locker, Inc. does not tolerate any form of antisemitism, or hateful and discriminatory behavior. While we remain a partner with adidas and carry a wide assortment of their collections — we will not be supporting any future Yeezy product drops.” 

Gap also released a statement:

“Antisemitism, racism and hate in any form are inexcusable and not tolerated in accordance with our values,” said Gap, which announced in September that it would end its partnership with Ye. The clothing retailer said at the time it would sell through its remaining Yeezy inventory.”

Both statements were similar to Adidas’ own statement, which stated:

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