PR Crisis? Think Data Science

From food to finance, every industry faces public relations crises from time to time. In a crisis, decisions must be made quickly, under significant pressure. Fortunately, at 0ptimus we are the Critical Window experts. With our roots in political campaigns—ranging from lofty Presidential races to gritty local races—we have helped hundreds of organizations use data science and analytics to rapidly respond in Critical Windows. During a PR crisis, leaders and their advisors look to 0ptimus to help them get the right eyes on the right content to retain public trust.

The goal of a crisis effort should be to return a brand/organization to normal state in the post-crisis period.

When getting the PR response right is critical, communications professionals turn to 0ptimus’ data and analytics to help them tune their battle plan.

Crisis at Food Co: FoodCo—a leading national consumer package goods company—discovers that one of their brands has tainted ingredients. Management and their strategic advisors know that in the days to come, public trust will fall, their stock price will plummet, and revenue will decline.

This is when clients and their advisors call 0ptimus. We step in to provide data and analytics around what is happening in the world of public opinion, while tailoring the message and delivery to resonate with key demographics.

0ptimus brought data to bear for the FoodCo crisis communicators in three forms:

Key Opinion Metrics: First, it is important to have a baseline to judge the extent of the crisis.

Prior to the crisis developing, 0ptimus had been taking regular high-sample opinion reads on Key Opinion Metrics (KOMs) related to FoodCo. We typically provide these for clients and their advisors at regular intervals. A key opinion metric is an analysis of response statistic to questions we ask the public (e.g. brand favorability, brand preference, NPS score). This allowed us to establish baseline opinion levels for the overall population and key segments within the targeted population.

Using our KOMs, FoodCo was able to quickly pinpoint where the story was having its greatest effects, and tune its response to those population segments specifically.

Earned & Paid Media Analytics: Next, FoodCo’s communications team used our data and analytics to quantify the crisis on key consumer demographics, to see where the extent of the damage.

As the tainted ingredient crisis intensified, FoodCo’s management’s emotions were raw and every day felt like defending a castle under siege. Stock prices fell, the press clamored for statements, and social media was brutal.

To understand the true extent of the PR crisis, 0ptimus provided earned media analysis that quantified the situation in terms of impressions landing against our key audience by DMA by station by day.

Through understanding the extent of the damage, FoodCo was able to craft an appropriate response.

Using our analytics, FoodCo understood the market negative, neutral and positive impressions landing on their key consumers, by day of the week, giving a clear picture of the damage.  On the days immediately following the crisis, the negative impressions landing on their consumers was high, but in subsequent days, though a typical communications war room might have perceived on-going assault, the impressions against our audience had dropped off considerably.

We make custom KOM reporting for each company/organization/client/partner, we build it to spec for the situation (this is not a dashboard you login to)

Earned Media Response Map: The 0ptimus analytics team enabled management to quickly respond with the right messages for the right people.

As management and their advisors crafted the response, they used 0ptimus data to guide them.  In order to effectively address the damage to their KOMs, FoodCo needed to win-back the opinion of several key groups (importantly for FoodCo, they needed to earn back the trust of new mothers).

To start, 0ptimus drew up a media map, by DMA, of where new mothers drew their information about the crisis. FoodCo could then optimize where it placed surrogates and advertising to claw back favor.  Below is one such graph of data we provided on morning shows in one market for one key segment:

The result:  the company worked for 5 weeks to win back the favor of its customers.  But they were never operating in the blind.  Using 0ptimus KOMs, they knew where the damage had been done.  Using our earned media analysis, they knew what the damage looked like (4-5 negative story impressions per average consumer), and using our earned media maps, they optimized surrogate and advertising placement against damage to key segments of customers.

As time went on, using our KOMs, FoodCo saw that situation had improved.  Some groups came off the crisis map (including new mothers), and resources could be refocused onto the last tricky groups (e.g. foreign language speakers).

Earned Media Situational Awareness is your view into what an audience is hearing on TV (and from who) in a given geography

 0ptimus data and analysis provides a rational and focused approach to recovery.

Ultimately FoodCo exited the crisis when damage to its KOMs had been repaired across key segments. Using 0ptimus’ data and analytics, FoodCo and its communicators mapped a rational and focused approach to recovery

On the other hand….sometimes a crisis….. isn’t really a crisis.

Knowing you are in a crisis and responding rationally is critical, yet it is also critical to separate out a negative story from a true crisis.

Don’t panic, 0ptimus analysis can tell when a negative story is isolated and not a true PR crisis.

Late one night, more technically early in the morning, 0ptimus received a frantic call. A client organization was about to go into crisis mode. A personal scandal involving senior leadership was supposedly leaked to the press. The organization’s public relations and marketing teams believed it was going to be a public relations nightmare.

Instead of overreacting, 0ptimus took a rational approach. We immediately started monitoring KOMs for movement (compared to pre-news hitting) expecting carnage. But in reality we didn’t notice massive movement in the days and even week following the incident.

Using our 0ptimus earned media analysis, we established that the earned media hits relating to the story were hitting only 10% of the organization’s target audience.  Further the effect of these hits was small: we showed only a 3-4% drop in public sentiment for the organization.

Instead of allocating $5 million on large scale crisis management, the organization instead spent a much smaller amount (~$1.5M) capital on small audience of consumers who were likely to view the information.

This ultimately counter-acted the 3-4% negative impact of the story and the public soon forgot.

In this case, 0ptimus data and analytics was used to scale the response, and help ensure a war-room mentality didn’t lead to an over-correction.  In the end it saved the organization millions of dollars.

Want to learn more about how to navigate PR crises?
Contact us today!


Brian Stobie Partner

Brian is a partner at 0ptimus where he works to build out new 0ptimus products and service existing clients. Brian co-founded 0ptimus to truly harness data-science (not just use it as a buzzword) to make advertising dollars more efficient and effective. Brian has experience ranging from Bain & Company to issue non-profits to startups.

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