How to Measure the Impact of a PR Crisis on Brand Perception


When a PR crisis emerges for your organization, it can prove to be a stressful time. 

Trying to manage communication internally and externally is challenging and will keep you working around the clock 24/7. No one wishes a public relations disaster on anyone, but things happen.

One of the ways to get a read on the reaction of external audiences and the general public is through a PR crisis survey

Although it may be easier to manage how the crisis is communicated and handled internally, externally is an entirely different story.

When it comes to external stakeholders and the general public, it’s crucial to first get a read on the crisis. Essentially, answering the critical question of: how big of a deal is this?

Collecting third-party data can assist with measuring the impact of a PR crisis on brand perception. 

Keep reading as our market research company shares a real-world example of how a poultry company utilized a brand tracking survey to effectively navigate bad press coverage.

The Challenge: Recovering from a PR Crisis

COVID-19 not only created an environment of uncertainty but also left businesses ripe for crisis management cases. 

For our client, there was a major outbreak of COVID at one of the manufacturing plants in the U.S.-- forcing the business to shut down. 

The outbreak garnered attention from both local and national news outlets, resulting in a negative perception of the facility.

The safety protocols came into question at the manufacturing facility (no social distancing, not supplying masks, no sick leave, and so on). It eventually developed into a lawsuit and was addressed on TV, radio, and in newspapers across the state. 

As a result, the chicken and turkey farm wanted to measure a benchmark on consumer feelings and brand perception toward the recent scandal.

Additionally, the poultry company wanted to add an additional wave of market research a few months later to see if and how perceptions have changed.

The Solution: Conduct a Brand Tracker Study

Having no external data on these key metrics, the brand needed answers. They came to us to conduct a PR survey and to gain an understanding of the level of impact/negative press.

The brand wanted to take a deep dive into awareness of the organization, if they were aware of the news, where they had seen/heard it, and its impact.

We quickly created a PR crisis management plan as a result. 

Drive Research recommended conducting a brand tracker survey as it is the perfect methodology for collecting information and measuring data on an ongoing basis.

It was the best option for depicting a wave of changes in the local community immediately after the COVID-19 outbreak as well as a few months later.

This involved:

  • Impact on brand perception
  • Likelihood to purchase
  • Increased possibilities of consumers shifting to competitors 

Our Approach to Conducting the Tracker Survey

Drive Research developed two online surveys for the brand. Specifically for a PR crisis, brands should use a third-party for an online survey–there is zero room for error!

The tracking survey involved multiple stages, rather than a one-and-done survey. This process is an integral part of a PR crisis management plan. 

The consumer market research study would be broken into two different waves:

  • Wave 1 – An online survey was conducted in September 2020.
  • Wave 2 – The same online survey was conducted in January 2021.

Most of the legwork happened in Wave 1 because this is when the survey is designed, programmed, and fielded. Whereas, in Wave 2 the survey just needs to be fielded as it is already written and programmed.

The survey targeted those aged 21-65 in the target market area who were grocery shopper decision-makers and had purchased the product category in the past 3 months.

Several quotas were created to compare both brand purchasers and competitive brand purchasers.

Steps included in Wave 1 of the tracker survey include:

  • Signed market research quote or proposal
  • Hosted a kickoff meeting
  • Designed the tracker survey based on the poultry company’s objectives
  • Programmed the brand tracker survey
  • Launched the survey to target respondents
  • Shared the findings through a comprehensive market research report

Steps included in Wave 2 of the tracker survey include:

  • Made any changes to the survey (all questions remained the same to accurately track KPIs over time)
  • Launched the survey to target respondents
  • Created a tracker scorecard to highlight how consumer preferences have changed from September 2020 to January 2021

Example Crisis Management Survey Questions

As a reminder, the goal of the poultry company was to track changes in consumer perceptions over time. 

Therefore, it was important to keep most of the survey questions the same as from Wave 1 and Wave 2.

Our market research company recommends employing the 80-20 rule.

In other words, 80% of the survey questions should remain the same in the second wave and 20% of the survey questions can be swapped out to account for changing attitudes and new insights learned from the first wave.

Topics of the PR crisis survey included:

  • Brand of the product category that comes to mind first (open-ended)
  • Aided awareness of the sponsoring brand and its competitors
  • Brand purchased most often
  • Agreement level with the following statements for the brand purchased most often
    • Is a brand I can trust
    • Is a higher-quality brand
    • The best days are still ahead for the brand
    • Is better than other brands
    • Is a brand I feel I have a lot in common with
    • Is a brand I would recommend to others (and why or why not)
  • Which of the following brands was recently in the news as it pertains to COVID-19
  • Where did you see or hear the brand in the news regarding COVID-19 (open-ended)
  • Where did you see, read, or hear about news regarding the brand (aided)
  • Agreement level with the following statements:
    • Companies and organizations in the U.S. are bringing their products to store shelves while keeping employees and customers safe during COVID-19
    • Brand category manufacturers are bringing their products to store shelves while keeping employees and customers safe during COVID-19
    • The brand purchased most often is bringing their products to store shelves while keeping employees and customers safe during COVID-19
  • Demographics

Results of the PR Crisis Perception Survey

The entire project was completed in one week, end-to-end. When the steps to conducting a PR survey are followed correctly, the process doesn’t have to take a long time.

In fact, speed and turnaround time for this type of survey is essential. Our second wave of market research for the brand was conducted months later to revisit the key metrics and KPIs. 

On average, each survey took respondents 5 to 7 minutes to complete. Both surveys included twenty-two questions.

Results of Wave 1

  • Received 219 responses.
  • The overall margin of error of +/- 4.4% at the 95% confidence level with a probabilistic sample of n500.

Results of Wave 2

  • Received 296 responses.
  • The overall margin of error of +/- 4.3% at the 95% confidence level with a probabilistic sample of n529.

After the second wave of the study, the poultry company received a COVID-19 tracker scorecard that showed various metrics and how they changed from September 2020 to January 2021.

Drive Research provided a scorecard of results to the client to understand the PR crisis and its impact at a glance for the management team. Other deliverables included online portals of tabulations/results and a CSV file of responses.

Here is an example of a brand tracker survey scorecard.

Outcomes of Using Surveys to Measure Brand Perception

Although the negative press and news were a major concern for the brand, a smaller percentage of the general public was aware of it (less than 20%). 

Our crisis management survey questions found that those who were aware of the news stated it had little to no impact on the view of the brand and intended purchasing behaviors. 

Internally, there were much greater fears that the negative press was known by everyone in the general public. 

They also feared that it would devalue the brand perception and push loyal customers to competitive products, but that was clearly not the case through the objective data collected by our team, which was representative of the target geography.

Conduct a PR Crisis Survey with Drive Research

Whether it be to measure the impact of a PR crisis or to see how consumer behaviors and preferences change over time, tracking surveys are a great tool to collect ongoing insights. And we can help!

Drive Research is a market research company based in New York. Our team understands the stages of crisis management and how to develop them. We’ll work with you to create a proposal, kick off the study, design a survey, collect data, and report on the results.

Curious about how the process works or the cost? Contact us using one of the four options below to learn more about our market research services.

  1. Message us on our website
  2. Email us at [email protected]
  3. Call us at 888-725-DATA
  4. Text us at 315-303-2040

emily carroll about the author

Emily Carroll

A SUNY Cortland graduate, Emily has taken her passion for social and content marketing to Drive Research as the Marketing Manager. She has earned certificates for both Google Analytics and Google AdWords.

Learn more about Emily, here.

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