Sales & Marketing

Ten things you need to do in a PR crisis

7 min read

15 October 2015

An unexpected crisis can ruin a hard-won reputation, decimate your bottom line, and put the future of your company in jeopardy. Having a strategic plan in place in case the worst happens is vital insurance for any company.

Some managers are reluctant to undertake crisis planning: crisis is by its nature unpredictable, making it difficult to know where to start. Acknowledging that you could face an emergency is uncomfortable, and it’s not always clear where crisis planning should fit amongst your day to day tasks.

There are far too many companies that are not adequately prepared for a crisis. But crossing your fingers and hoping it won’t happen to you isn’t good enough. Even if you’re committed to the highest standards and always implement best practice, a crisis could come from an unexpected place: the actions of a member of staff, a sector-wide emergency or a problem with a supplier or distributor could impact your business too.

A crisis can be an opportunity. When we produce crisis strategies, we aim for the company’s reputation to be equal to the status it had before the crisis – if not better. 

With a strong plan you can not only avoid damage, but come out ahead. No one can control a crisis, but they are most open to positive influence through strong communications in their earliest stages. Having a good plan in place allows you to react quickly and appropriately.

Here are my top ten tips for crisis management:

1) Have a strong communications plan

This will help maintain good relationships with all your stakeholder groups. These relationships are tested in a crisis, and these are the people you may need to call on for their support. Remember your stakeholders aren’t just your customers: they include your staff, neighbours and journalists.

2) Scan for potential risks and issues

If you have good communication with your stakeholders you can spot an issue when it emerges, and intervene before you have a crisis on your hands. Good issues scanning depends on monitoring developments in your sector, legislative changes, media attitudes and the behaviour of your competitors, and being responsive to your customers’ needs.

3) Identify your key spokespeople

Ensure that all key spokespeople have been trained in handling crises and dealing with the media. Your spokespeople should be members of senior management who can keep calm under pressure and will be comfortable speaking to journalists at short notice.

4) Have a well co-ordinated crisis team

During a crisis all communications should be co-ordinated by the crisis team: advise your staff to direct external enquiries to them, and not to speak to the media on their own initiative! Appoint alternates for your team, in case someone is off that day or you have a long crisis and need to rotate your personnel. Remember it’s too late to learn the skills you need during the crisis – don’t wait until you have an emergency on your hands.

Continue reading more tips for crisis management on page two…

5) Have your crisis communications plan ready

Each crisis is different, but you can have your media lists, fact sheets and even holding statements prepared in advance. This will give journalists something to work from while you investigate the crisis and ascertain the facts. You want to be in as much control as possible from the start, and a pre-prepared media pack will help. Don’t forget to store copies of all your crisis materials off site in case there’s an emergency at your premises.

6) Regularly update your stakeholders and media throughout the crisis

Be proactive in approaching your media contacts and providing them with information: you want to be seen as the authoritative source of information on the crisis, and you don’t want the public getting their information from other – potentially prejudiced sources.

7) It’s OK to admit you don’t have all the answers yet

Tell people what you’re doing to investigate the crisis and when you expect to have the information they need. Don’t say anything you’re not certain of, or make promises you won’t be able to keep.

8) But do act quickly to address any information you know to be wrong

Swift and direct clarification rectifies the situation. It’s important to keep on top of what’s being said about you during a crisis.

9) Online speculation means your crisis activity now needs to be 24/7 

The internet is the first place your stakeholders will go when they’re looking for information on the crisis, and they will expect to be able to contact you directly on your social media channels. Resource will need to be directed to responding quickly, accurately and reassuringly to points made and questions asked across all your streams.

10) You need to give thought to how you will rebuild your reputation after a crisis

What would a crisis ‘win’ look like for your company? After the crisis has passed and your investigation has concluded it might become clear your company wasn’t at fault, and it’s to your advantage to communicate this effectively. Ask what you can learn from the crisis to re-position your company.

PR is a vital element of crisis planning. It can integrate seamlessly with your existing risk management and business continuity plans, but remember it’s PR that’s the public face of your organisation, and this role is critical during a crisis. Having an effective plan in place prevents aggravating the situation, means no more 3am panics for your CEO, and helps you come out of an emergency on top.

Jane Kroese is PR director at KISS PR.