June 3, 2021
PR Strategies for a Panicked Audience
Public relations can be quite beneficial for companies in many different ways aside from building relationships with media outlets to receive positive media coverage or managing a very public PR crisis situation.
One of those beneficial ways is to help communicate with a segment of the audience that’s panicked and create a calming effect.
For instance, recently, the Colonial Pipeline suffered through a ransomware attack and had to pause operations for a couple of days which led to the panicked buying of fuel throughout parts of North Carolina. Although the situation has since passed, and things are going back to normal, the public’s response was completely normal.
However, when the situation was first announced, many members of the public started worrying that they wouldn’t have fuel for a longer period of time.
Unfortunately, the panicked buying also led to some temporary gas shortages in various parts of Florida, which meant the temporary pause of the pipeline’s operations had a more noticeable impact which was self-inflicted.
Some rumors of gas shortage surfaced soon after the company’s announcement, and many drivers decided to panic-buy gas, which ended up causing the very thing the company was trying to avoid.
Despite both local and state officials urging the public not to rush to buy additional gas, especially if it was unnecessary because it could lead to a harmful situation, many members of the public continued discussing the shortage on social media platforms.
The same officials also warned people and talked about the importance of not spreading the rumor on socials, which was quite an uphill battle, considering the main driver of action was emotion and not logic.
It’s easy for negative emotions to get activated at a moment’s notice, however, diminishing those feelings takes time and effort. When misinformation is added in the mix of negative emotions, situations become a lot more complex, but that shouldn’t bring much trouble to companies or government officials in utilizing better communications strategies.
One of the best such strategies has four steps – acknowledging the concerns of the audience, creating a report of the situation, creating a plan of action, and promoting success.
Acknowledging the Audience’s Concerns
The first step in the strategy is to validate any concerns, especially legitimate concerns, that the public has during a difficult or complicated situation.
This way, the audience will be assured the company understands their feelings because offering empathy is the first step in getting more credibility in those types of situations.
It takes a lot of trust for the audience to start listening and then believing what they’re being told when emotions are running high, which is why this is a crucial first step.
Report of the Situation
Most panic situations are created with a mix of rumors, speculation, and a bit of truth. That’s why PR professionals should be explaining situations clearly and correcting any misinformation.
Plan of Action
The third step is to explain to the public all of the steps that the company will be taking to help ease the problem. To the public, it’s just as important to be part of the solution as it is to receive guidance from officials or companies.
The final step in this strategy is for companies to constantly talk about the positive results and success if everyone follows the plan of action.
This success should be explained simply and clearly, in a way that anyone would be able to understand it, without having to fill any information gaps themselves.