keys to PR crisis management

Photo credit: Luca Apolito

Managing a PR or social media crisis is typically challenging and stressful. Improper responses can cause irreparable damage to the company and brand – perhaps worse than the original crisis. Preparation enables your organization to respond faster and more effectively.

Experts recommend following these steps to prepare for a crisis.

Create a Crisis Management Plan

Create a written crisis management plan that names a crisis response team with an assigned spokesperson. The plan must also include how information will be communicated to internal and external stakeholders and the general public. Find your stakeholders’ preferred communication method through surveys or other research. Test and improve your communication with stakeholders before a crisis erupts.

Conduct a crisis response simulation so your organization is prepared when (not if) a crisis occurs.

Act Quickly

In handling a PR crisis, the first 48 hours are most important. Ignoring the situation with a head-in-the-sand approach is the worst possible reaction. Small business owners in particular seem to think the problem will quickly fade away.

When a PR crisis pops up, immediately drop everything to bring together your organization’s crisis response team. Assess the situation and the damage done. Draw on your internal connections in your organization to investigate the situation. Determine what went wrong and how it happened. Lay out a clear strategy to manage the situation.

Create a Message

Devise different messages for your different stakeholders, such as investors, employees, customers, the press, and the general public. If possible, communicate your message to everyone impacted by the crisis in person. Don’t wait to respond and apologize.

Deliver accurate and timely information directly to your stakeholders on the channels they prefer. Strive for transparent, two-way and real-time communication.

Don’t delegate crisis communication to lawyers or other outsiders.

Don’t let the media tell your story. Stay ahead of the media and understand the 24-hours news cycle.

Consider Social Media

Social media has pros and cons as a crisis communication channel. It can help you communicate quickly and resolve problems and answer questions promptly. However, the message is more difficult to control in social media since anyone can publicly comment, divert your message and potentially make the problem worse. Use social media only if you are confident about the situation, how you’ll handle the crisis, and how social media users will respond.

Otherwise, employ venues such as blog posts or press release. Turn to these one-way communication channels when you can’t afford to discuss some details of the situation.

Follow Up

Tone is critical in any crisis message. Communications must be sincere, honest and empathetic. Brevity is usually preferable. Stay on message but don’t seem scripted. If an apology is needed, make it strong and direct. People are more likely to forgive if they see you care.

After your initial response within 24 to 48 hours, monitor the after effects to understand the temperature. The continuing reaction, if any, should guide your continued response. If it’s cooled down, stay quiet.

Whatever your response, be prepared for lingering damage.

Bottom Line: Preparing a crisis management response before a crisis erupts is the best crisis management response.

For more information on PR crisis management, see the 2019 PR Crisis Management Playbook.


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Melissa Agnes

How to Handle a PR Crisis