Why your people will make or break a PR disaster

What can HR learn from the notorious Fyre Festival?

PR nightmares and branding disasters have the propensity to ruin organizations. In today’s 24/7, ‘switched-on’ world – employers can’t afford to make any media mistakes.

Earlier this year, the public witnessed a slew of allegations against the now notorious Fyre Festival – a music event which promised to be bigger, better and more exclusive than anything before. Whilst invitees were promised models and yachts and private beach parties, in reality they received sub-standard meals and unfinished accommodation.

And yet – it wasn’t the actual even that drew the most criticism. It was how the unfolding nightmare was handled by the organizers.

We spoke to TJ Schmaltz, SVP HR at Westminster Savings and speaker at HR Leaders Summit Vancouver, who detailed how HR leaders should be mitigating any PR nightmares.

“PR nightmares really are disasters,” he prefaced. “The biggest issue is to ensure you’re getting your employees to help you manage the problem early.

“Your employees are what will make or break your success during this difficult time. Employees are on the frontline when it comes to customer concern and media outreach. And even though you might brief staff not to speak to the press, there’s still a possibility that they will – so it’s essential they know what to say, especially to your customers.”

Maintaining a positive employer brand is of the upmost importance – not only for public perception, but in terms of recruitment and employee retention. In fact, 86% of candidates wouldn’t opt to join a company with a bad reputation, whilst 80% of recruiters think company perception has a significant impact on the type of talent they’ll attract.

With that in mind, TJ believes that HR needs to take a proactive approach to mitigating any unfolding drama.

“The starting point from an HR perspective is recognizing that employees play a big role in helping your get though a PR gaffe,” he told HRD.

“As such, you’ve really got to speak to staff early on in the process. Offer them information – as much as you can, at least – so they know what steps the organization will be taking next.

“Not every company has the same approach, but at Westminster Savings we really believe in being as transparent as possible with our employees. You’ve got to be as accountable as you can be, letting employees know that you’re taking responsibility and acting in the face of difficult circumstances.”