How to Handle A Crisis

CrisisIn October Minibar Austin found itself in hot water. An employee posted a sign outside that read "I like my beer like I like my violence: domestic."

An outcry erupted, and as soon as owner Alex Elmiger learned of the sign he replaced it with another promising that $1 of every domestic beer sold would go towards the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The employee responsible for the sign was terminated that day.

A crisis like this can happen to any bar or nightclub, along with others such as natural disasters, foodborne illness outbreaks and violence. But there are measures that can be put in place and positive ways of dealing with crisis:

Before the Crisis

Prepare for a crisis as much as you can.

“The less you have to do on the spot, the more quickly you can respond in a positive way,” says Gary Frisch, president Swordfish Communications, Laurel Springs, N.J. “It also means everybody will be on the same page and you’ll have a better chance of having a unified message.”

If you have the money, hire a public relations company and keep it on retainer. This means if a crisis occurs, the company will provide all the guidance. A PR company can also suggest spokespersons from your bar/nightclub and train them to deal with crises.

Good traits of a spokesperson, says Frisch, are, most importantly, that someone is authoritative. Other good traits: charisma, confidence and reassurance.

It’s a good idea to keep a media checklist so the spokesperson can quickly check it before any media interviews. This could include:

  • Key employee contacts during and after hours, especially for the spokesperson(s).
  • Company facts such as the year the company began and the number of people served per day, especially anything that paints a good picture.
  • Photographs of executives.
  • A media log, so the company knows whom the spokesperson has talked to, when, and any followup that’s needed.

During a Crisis

In terms of your reputation, communication is the most important thing to handle well during a crisis. Make sure all messages—to the press, consumers and on social media—are exactly the same.

Once your crisis hits, provide information as quickly as you can, to prevent rumors and speculation, says Frisch. But don’t provide information fast at the expense of accuracy. And the absolute worst thing to say is “no comment,” he adds.

When you speak to journalists or consumers, be repentant and explain how you will right the wrong. Also talk about what preventative measures you will take going forward, says Kathie Fleck, visiting assistant professor of public relations, Ohio Northern University, Ada, Ohio.

Social media is also a great way to tell your story, and to apologize during a crisis.

“Social media can be a powerful crisis management tool,” says Jeff Huggins, president and CEO of Huggins Consulting Group, Des Moines, Iowa. “It creates opportunities to gauge audience perceptions and perspectives, and quickly disseminate the facts and maintain a dialog.” 


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