Viewers of TV and movies have long seen public relations crises as central plot points in their favorite shows. HBO’s Wizard of Lies told the story of the PR (and legal) crisis that rocked the American financial system. Various crises hit the White House in The West Wing’s seven seasons. Scandal is an entire series based on ongoing PR crises.

PR crises happen IRL, too—even more frequently than ever, largely because of social media.

The rise of social media has allowed brands continual exposure to their customers, which has allowed for screw-ups to become public and go viral quickly. Fans can take to social media to talk about a negative experience they had with the brand. Brands themselves often post messaging or images that are contrary to the brand mission or are downright inappropriate, directly causing scandals themselves. (Our favorite recent example: a member of Ted Cruz’s staff accidentally retweeting a pornographic tweet.)

Situations that constitute a PR crisis include negative testimonials on social media, viral videos posted by customers, offensive marketing or ads, misbehavior by employees or board members, and health scares or data breaches related to a brand’s products.

PR crises happen with brands all the time. Below are a few examples that have happened over the last three months alone:

  • Dove’s recent ad depicting a black woman turning white
  • Incident in which a customer was dragged off of a Southwest flight
  • The Equifax data breach
  • The report detailing Harvey Weinstein’s sexual harassment investigations

These are only a few examples (and we’re not even acknowledging the near-daily outbursts by President Trump, which many would count as PR disasters).

At its core, a PR crisis is an event that publicly challenges the reputation of a brand or client. If an event feels like a crisis, it probably is—and the brand involved should act on it.

So how exactly should brands handle these crises?

More on that in our next post.