After a negative event becomes public and escalates to levels where it generates a PR crisis, how does the team react?
Well, they go into crisis management. Just imagine it: everyone in the office running around, screaming, throwing papers in the air, not knowing what to do.
Like in a movie. But just like it happens on TNT and in real life, someone has to take control of the situation and lower the tension.
That’s when crisis management skills become extremely necessary, especially in political crises. Many things can go wrong, and private information can come to light.
In this article, we’ll go through 6 political PR examples that were successful in crisis management.
The Importance of Crisis Management
Part of crisis management is knowing how to proceed after an uncomfortable situation. The first thing is to alleviate everyone’s concerns with words of encouragement and methods to mitigate the crisis.
The next step is to create a space that allows the necessary discussions to arise so teams can decide on appropriate action.
For this, managers can apply Robert’s Rules of Order, which offer valuable guidance in leading discussions and making decisions effectively. Once they’ve made big decisions, it’s time to implement a new plan.
This method can be useful in political crises that affect a national population. Let’s see how well public officials can manage crises and make important decisions using this collaborative approach that relies on transparency and clear communication.
6 Political PR Examples of Crisis Management
Here are six political PR examples to learn from (the good, the bad, and the ugly of various political campaigns).
1. The UK COVID Eat Out to Help Out Campaign
In 2020, the UK government launched a campaign to help support businesses reopening after the first COVID-19 lockdown period.
Under the Eat Out to Help Out campaign, as it was called, the government offered 50% off the cost of food and/or non-alcoholic drinks ordered at participating businesses throughout the UK.
The above social media post depicts the campaign as a great idea. But, considering the UK government’s other initiative — the anti-obesity campaign — it might not have been the best decision.
The anti-obesity campaign aimed to persuade the British population to lose weight. This campaign responded to news that being obese can make COVID-19 symptoms worse.
So, when you combine a campaign to consume more fast food with a campaign urging citizens to slim down, it sounds contradictory, doesn’t it?
The Eat Out to Help Out campaign was blamed for 1 in 6 new COVID-19 cases. It was also held responsible for triggering a second wave because it prompted people to visit restaurants and cafes (read: gather in groups and form crowds).
In his communications to the public, Prime Minister Boris Johnson stressed the importance of keeping jobs going. But he also acknowledged that the campaign may have helped spread the virus. He suggested ways to counteract the effects of the campaign.
For example, the UK government introduced additional COVID-19 restrictions and measures, such as the “rule of six,” and closed restaurants and pubs in a second national lockdown.
2. Air Force One Photo Op Panic
The devastating 9/11 attacks changed the world forever. In 2009 — not even a decade after the attacks — the US Department of Defense made a big mistake when it launched a photo shoot for Air Force One, the president’s official plane.
To get a good photo, the plane flew over Manhattan at a low altitude, right around the site of the World Trade Center.
The department did so without informing the public. This event led to panic among New Yorkers, who thought it was another 9/11-style terrorist attack. With images of 9/11 still fresh in their minds, people started evacuating buildings and running for their lives. Some even called the police.
The same day, the White House issued an apology for the flyover. Louis E. Caldera, director of the White House Military Office, admitted to approving the mission, taking responsibility for the incident and any distress the flight caused. This political PR example is one that could’ve caused many people to experience anxiety and mental health issues.
While this was an unorganized photo-op that scared thousands, if not millions, the Department of Defense took full responsibility for the fallout in its crisis communications.
President Barack Obama was furious and unaware of the photo-op, clearing him of all responsibility.
Imagine the fear New Yorkers felt seeing an airplane fly so close to their beloved buildings, with tough memories of 9/11 still front and center in their minds.
3. Clinton-Lewinsky Scandal
The Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky scandal was a popular news headline in the 1990s. President Clinton had an extramarital affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
The relationship lasted 18 months. News of the scandal broke in 1998 by a reporter exposing the affair. Clinton began fighting the most serious threat to his presidency, at first denying the allegations.
However, he eventually admitted to the affair. He did so in a way to explain his actions. Clinton aimed for the American public to understand his motives, actions, and beliefs. He said he started his sexual affair with Lewinsky to “manage his anxieties” as president.
His earnest confession showed the American people that he was a flawed individual and that he wasn’t perfect. Clinton argued that it was time to stop the politics of personal destruction into private lives and “get on with our national life.” He apologized for his efforts and acknowledged his wrongdoing in a relatable human way.
In his communication to the public, Clinton also used priming, which is the idea that when people consume certain information, it can influence how they think or feel about related topics.
It’s like planting a seed in their mind that can affect later thoughts and opinions. For example, if you see a lot of news stories about affairs, it may make you aware of more of these issues in general.
So, when you hear about a new scandal, you might already have some thoughts and feelings about it because you’ve been primed by earlier news stories.
While Clinton’s approach to crisis management can be seen as unethical, it somewhat salvaged his reputation. Even though he was impeached, he still enjoyed high approval ratings.
Clinton’s genuine apology persuaded the public that he was just like the country’s poorest, most oppressed citizens.
4. Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster
The 2011 radiation accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station in Japan caused severe social disruption. Japan’s Prime Minister Naoto Khan faced intense scrutiny and critical public perception because of the incident.
Authors from Nagasaki University helped the government in its mass communication efforts by educating people about radiation health effects at public halls in Iwaki City and Fukushima City.
They answered questions about key concerns, such as:
- Possible evacuation
- Whether residents should wear a mask outside
- The safety of children playing outside
- The safety of tap water
- The heredity of radiation health effects
- The status of the power plant in the aftermath of the nuclear disaster
A public health nurse even stayed for an extended period to consult with residents about their individual radiation exposure and public health.
Residents who lived near the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station eventually relocated to different locations, following instructions to evacuate.
Ultimately, scientists found that the risks of external radiation to residents were low by measuring radiation levels in the soil.
As a result, some residents returned to the village, while others didn’t because they had already established their new lives in their new location.
Crisis management efforts after the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear disaster were successful in re-establishing resident trust and putting the public at ease during the crisis.
Experts who had extensive knowledge of the effects and risks of radiation communicated with the public to alleviate their fears and concerns.
Even though the risks of radiation remained low, Japan’s public officials took precautions to make sure affected communities were both informed and safe. This is one of the few great political PR examples of crisis management.
The below NPR report shows a visual of the nuclear disaster that a devastating quake and tsunami caused.
5. Challenger Space Shuttle Disaster
In 1986, the space shuttle Challenger exploded, killing all seven crew members on board.
The explosion was a major tragedy for NASA and the Reagan administration. In the president’s Address to the Nation on the Explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger, he gave a speech to soothe the nation in a difficult time.
He used a compassionate tone to let the people who lost someone in the accident know that he was with them and thinking of them. His address captured the public’s emotions and offered hope in a time of tragedy.
Not only was Reagan’s address one of history’s greatest speeches, but it’s also one of the best political PR examples of crisis management done right.
While Reagan’s address couldn’t bring back the people lost, it did succeed in helping America recover from the loss of the men and women on the shuttle. And soothing pain, fear, and worry is one of the most important aspects of crisis communication.
6. Hurricane Sandy Response
In 2012, Hurricane Sandy caused major damage on the East Coast, hitting New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut hard. At the time, it was the second-largest Atlantic storm on record, second only to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie worked closely with President Barack Obama to coordinate disaster response efforts. Christie provided regular updates to the public to prepare for and warn residents about the approaching superstorm.
Public responders at all levels, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), worked to make sure there were no information gaps that’d hinder recovery efforts. News coverage also played a critical role in crisis communication during the devastating storm.
Even though Hurricane Sandy ended up causing billions of dollars in damage, effective crisis management played a key role in saving lives and improving preparation efforts.
After reading about these political examples, you’ve probably gained a pretty good understanding of how difficult crisis management can be to carry out.
Effective crisis management requires strategic consideration, planning, and communication.
By leveraging an approach that’s sympathetic to your audience and understands their frustrations and fears, you can effectively manage a crisis. Monitoring and responding strategically to social media efforts, where public sentiment can rapidly shift, is crucial in this endeavor.
Be transparent, communicate positives (not just negatives or issues), and manage expectations to successfully navigate a political crisis.
However, the real secret in political crisis management lies in media monitoring.
This can give you a clear picture of what works and what doesn’t in PR communications and reputation management. Book a demo with Determ for your next political PR campaign.
Born and raised in Atlanta, Britney is a freelance writer with 5+ years of experience. She has written for a variety of industries, including marketing, technology, business, finance, healthcare, wellness, and fitness. If she’s not spending her time chasing after three little humans and two four-legged friends, you can almost always find her glued to a book or awesome TV series.