media update’s Talisa Jansen van Rensburg takes a look at three of the things that PR pros need to do to ensure that they can avoid landing in crisis.

First things first: What exactly is a PR crisis? Well, according to PUSHKINPR, a crisis contains the following three aspects:

  • anything that can damage your reputation
  • anything that can cause a loss of trust
  • any risk to the health, lives or safety of staff, clients, patients, providers or other stakeholders
Although this definition can apply to agencies worldwide, when it comes to South Africa, it gets a little bit trickier, as PR pros also need to be wary of all the different types of people found within the country, as well as the various languages used.

With that said, here are three things PR pros need to do to avoid a crisis in South Africa:

1. Be culturally sensitive

South Africa is made up of many different cultures, religions, ethnicities, etc., which means that PR professionals need to ensure that their messages are well thought out and sensitive to all sorts of people in the country.

There is no excuse for brands to have any racist imagery or undertones, cultural appropriation or gender discrimination in the messages they want to send out to their audiences. Regardless of who the brand’s consumers are, they need to ensure that they are respectful to all South Africans. If they’re not, then it could lead to their organisation coming under fire in the media as well as on social media.

Take, for example, the TRESemmé ad fiasco on the Clicks website recently, which described black women’s hair as being ‘dry and damaged’, ‘frizzy and dull’, whereas white women’s hair was described as being ‘normal’ hair.

The marketing and PR teams at Clicks and TRESemmé clearly did not think this ad through, and the cultural sensitivity in the ad is non-existent. Had the team acquired more inclusive and diverse team members, this crisis may have been avoided, which brings us to our next point ...

2. Be inclusive

A big thing that many brands sometimes fail to realise is who exactly makes up their audience; your PR pro might believe that it’s only men that follow the brand, but in reality, there could be women showing just as much interest. PR professionals, therefore, need to tailor a brand’s message in a way it is inclusive to everyone, or at least ensure that it doesn’t exclude a specific group of people.

An example of a brand that ensured that their message about suicide prevention was all-inclusive was Google Pixel 2 | The Picture Perfect Life in 2018. The company did this by letting different people from different cultures each tell a part of their story, and this is what PR practitioners need to strive to do with their campaigns for brands in South Africa.

3. Be transparent

A common trait of most South Africans is that they don’t sugar coat anything; they tell it like it is, especially when it comes to something unjust or something that has upset them. This makes them a unique audience to create messages for.

South Africans are known for making use of humour to deal with situations, such as load shedding, and even now, on TikTok, you will find video clips of people poking fun at the crisis that Clicks and TRESemmé are sitting with.

So, what’s the best way to create a message for the SA audience? Be honest all the way, tell it like it is — however, in ‘telling it like it is’, remember to be respectful. Looking at the Clicks and TRESemmé example, both brands are sitting with issues regarding the ad that countless South African’s view as being racist. Instead of trying to use excuses to make the situation look better, both parties apologised, and Clicks said that it would remove TRESemmé products from its shelves.

Although it’s better to prevent a crisis, in the face of one, rather own up to your mistakes, even if your audience isn’t loving your brand at the time. This will prevent the crisis from spreading further and from creating an even bigger backlash on digital media.

What else do you think PR pros need to pay attention to when creating a message for the South African audience? Be sure to let us know in the comments section below.

Well, you’ve made it this far. Why not sign up for our newsletter while you’re here?

If you do happen to walk into a crisis, fear not! Here’s everything you need to know about Crisis management 101: What to do when disaster strikes.
*Image courtesy of Vecteezy