When people are faced with bad news, even if they are not at all impacted, doubt can set in. That doubt grows, unaided, like a nefarious seed, creating PR issues for groups and organizations completely unrelated to the initial issue. When any entity fails to grasp the public relations fallout from a significant PR crisis and allows that message to spin out of their control, the trouble can expand exponentially.
Consider the impact of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. The news stories coming out of that beleaguered city are distressing. Tens of thousands of children poisoned, permanently disabled by ingesting high quantities of lead-infused water. There is no doubt the leaders in Flint didn’t take the problem seriously enough, and certainly have not acted quickly enough in the wake of the reveals.
Initially, people outside of the crisis looked on with horror, sorrow, and empathy for the victims. They felt anger at the inaction and bad decisions of the leadership. They looked on with loathing. And continued watching while, essentially, nothing was done.
Now internal loathing from afar is morphing into distrust and fear directed at their own leadership. In a recent Associated Press poll, less than half of respondents said they trusted their own city’s water supply. Most filter their water, many won’t drink it at all.
Worse, because of the racial makeup of Flint, many minorities and individuals of all races at the lower end of the economic spectrum are even less trusting of their own water supply. They may live half a continent away, but they identify with the pain felt in Flint, and their distrust for local governments has grown as this story drags on.
Put simply: bad news landed in Flint, and, like a rock tossed into a pond, the ripples of that PR crisis has caused people totally unrelated to the situation to feel doubt and fear of governments nowhere near Flint.
Take note, PR teams and brand managers. When something negative hits your industry, whether you were involved or not, you need to be prepared to protect your clients and protect your brand. When others are seen as uncaring and slow acting, you must increase your care and speed of action. You must visibly and consistently connect in positive ways. Don’t just sit by and watch a competitor burn. If you do, that fire might singe you before it burns out.