Poles are not the simplest of customers. As a nation, we are very critical, stubborn and stand firmly by our opinions. The opinion of a Pole is difficult to change; similarly, it is difficult to convince them to a new kind of product or service. So when a company goes through an image crisis in Poland, rescuing the difficult situation requires extraordinary capabilities and knowledge – both about PR and about Poles themselves. Here are the most important principles of crisis PR in Poland from the experience of a Polish public relations agency.

Table of contents:

  • Sources of corporate image crises in Poland
  • Crisis communication strategy
  • Managing emotions 
  • Crisis media messages
  • Systems for monitoring an image crisis
  • Contact with stakeholders and partners

Sources of corporate image crises in Poland

54% – this is how many representatives of companies operating in Poland estimate the probability of a crisis occurring in their organisations each year. The spectre of an image crisis (understood as a negative event disrupting an organisation’s activity and involving the risk of media, social media, customers or authorities) increased with the advent of the pandemic. In 2021 alone, as many as 31% of organisations in Poland experienced crises. 

Where are the most popular sources of crises? According to data from the Kryzysometr 2021 report, the majority (over 50%) of business owners and crisis PR experts see the sources of crises in the Internet. Slightly less is due to the impact of politics on the life of a company, as well as economic difficulties caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Internet crises are now an everyday occurrence in Poland and every company should take them into account. 

According to the research, the most likely causes of crises are:

  • fake news about the company, 
  • negative consumer comments,  
  • data leaks, 
  • cyber-attacks, 
  • inappropriate use of social media by employees, 
  • product problems, 
  • unfavourable publications by influencers.

Being aware of the popular sources of image crises, we can prepare for them in advance. How? The work of crisis public relations experts should include, first, employee training in crisis communication (both online and stationary). Another task of PR specialists is to create and update crisis manuals (i.e., a set of rules on how to act in the event of an image crisis). With such preparation, we reduce chaos and disorganisation when the crisis occurs. 

What should be the next steps of proper crisis PR in Poland?

Crisis communication strategy

The first step should be to select people within the company to form a crisis communication team. Ideally, the team should include the CEO, PR experts (including a press officer) and a legal advisor. If we are dealing with a foreign company operating on the Polish market, it would be good if the public relations experts, the spokesperson and the lawyer were Polish. This not only facilitates communication and reduces the risk of error, but also makes the company give the recipients the message: “we respect you”. 

Everyone who is part of the crisis communication team should know what they are responsible for and stick strictly to the agreed strategy.

Management of emotions

Managing an image crisis in Poland means managing emotions – not only those of the audience, but also your own. Polish customers do not leave easily, and a reputation and trust once lost will be very difficult to rebuild. Therefore, the first reaction of a company to a crisis on the Polish market is the most important one.

In crisis public relations in Poland there is a famous 5Ps principle, which means:

  • apologise (przeproś),
  • prepare yourself (przygotuj się),
  • prevent (przeciwdziałaj),
  • improve (popraw się),
  • make up for losses (powetuj straty).

Controlling emotions is particularly difficult at the first stage, that of the apology. It is easy to make the classic mistake that Poles do not forgive, namely the use of the phrase: we apologise to everyone who felt offended. If the company is at fault, you should apologise for the mistake. To everyone. Not just those who may have personally or financially suffered any loss here. When writing an apology, it is a good idea to enlist the help of a lawyer, but we advise against using dry legal jargon. Especially when you have people on the other side who have suffered from the crisis. This creates a big contrast (emotional confessions of the victims vs. a cold apology from the corporation), which builds distance. And this is something Poles don’t like very much.  

Crisis media coverage

Where to communicate our 5Ps? At a time when most crises take place online, it is the company’s Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram or simply website that seems a good choice. Which form will work best? A longer written statement or a video (the most senior company representative should always speak here). However, it is worth being aware that this rule should apply to crises triggered in social media. If we are dealing with a serious crisis on the scale of the whole country and the company’s problem is mentioned by the biggest Polish media, a post on Facebook is definitely not enough.

The most common crisis communication tools in Poland are:

  • Media statements – That is, the company’s social media and website.
  • Press release – information sent to journalists describing the incident, the cause of the crisis and the actions taken by the company to resolve it.
  • Press briefing – meeting directly with interested journalists, e.g. at a press conference.

It is important that all crisis communication starts as soon as possible and is coherent. Otherwise, the Polish public will be happy to point out all the inaccuracies made by the company in its media releases. 

Image crisis monitoring systems

Merely apologising, promising to improve, and taking action to remedy the crisis is not enough. The milk has been spilt. An image crisis in Poland can follow a brand (especially a foreign brand!) for many months or even years. That is why it is so important to place emphasis on constant monitoring of the effects of the crisis. If just one negative article is indexed in the top 10 Google searches, the company is at risk of losing 22% of its former reputation. Internet monitoring tools should therefore be an essential tool for the crisis team.

What to monitor then?

  • Place that was the source of the crisis (if the crisis was externally triggered).
  • All mentions of the company on the Internet (broken down into specific sources of negative comments).
  • Stakeholder feedback.
  • Keywords and hashtags related to the crisis (especially on Twitter).
  • Competitors’ online activity.
  • Influencers who are/involved in the issue or were the source of the crisis.

Contact with stakeholders and partners

An image crisis in Poland is associated not only with a loss of confidence in a brand or a temporary fall in sales. It also carries the risk of much more serious financial consequences. Especially if it involves stakeholders or regular business partners who, in response to the crisis, may immediately terminate cooperation. 

Here is an important note: an apology post on Facebook is not enough for external stakeholders. They require completely different and dedicated crisis messages. If they don’t know what is going on, they will quickly become angry. This is a one-way road towards losing them. It is also important to train staff who have direct contact with stakeholders (e.g. the customer service department). Staff should be able to answer all the questions of concerned stakeholders and, if necessary, direct them to those designated for crisis communications. 

Crisis public relations is like health – prevention is better than cure. Although many aspects of PR are difficult to predict, it is worth preparing in advance for an appropriate reaction. Are you looking for an experienced Polish PR agency that helps foreign companies create crisis manuals or train their employees? Or maybe you are looking for quick and professional help with an already existing crisis? Do not hesitate to contact us!

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