What is Crisis PR?

You might call it Murphy’s Law (as we do in the US), or sod’s law (as they do in the UK), or any other moniker, but, where PR is concerned, the real question is what do you do when things go wrong?

Crisis PR is the well-honed communications practice designed to help an organization or individual navigate the rough waters of a event that can have a significantly and lasting negative impact.

When done successfully, crisis PR is about creating and implementing a nuanced, deliberate and thoughtful process that:

  • Provides adequate, effective and candid responses to media and core audiences
  • Develops a message that helps audiences understand what’s going on
  • Offers a way forward that keeps the brand narrative on track

Doing this is difficult. It requires intensive, collaborative work with client-side teams, and a lot of creativity and decisive action on the agency side. So, how can you be prepared for a crisis situation?

There should be, at every organization, a framework or at least a plan to manage a crisis, which consists of (a) pre-crisis preparedness, (b) a crisis response and (c) post-crisis communications. 

Pre-Crisis

  • Get Media Training Now – A  designated spokesperson with Media Training can play a pivotal role in successfully addressing the media with poise and a clear control of the message.
  • Get Your Messaging In Order – Solid brand messaging will play a significant role in helping you ground your response in core brand values. Be prepared with a messaging document that includes these elements, as well as talking points.
  • Get Media Training Now – A  designated spokesperson with Media Training can play a pivotal role in successfully addressing the media with poise and a clear control of the message.

Crisis

When you’re in the thick of a crisis, even with the phones ringing, emails dropping, and social media lighting up, the first and most important principle is this: Stay calm. 

In practice, this means resisting the temptation to “put out the fire” with an off the cuff response. Rather, it’s time to take a breath, make a plan and, if you’re able, consult with professionals well versed in managing crisis situations.

That said, best practices include:

  • Get management on the same page, so everyone knows who’s doing—and, just as importantly, saying—what.
  • Communicate honestly to your teams, which sometimes means admitting you don’t know the answers at the moment.
  • Gather information so your communications team will have everything they need to respond to media, stakeholders and other constituencies.
  • Refer media requests to your communications team. If you don’t have a comms team on board yet, let reporters know you’ll return to them as soon as possible.
  • Maintain perspective and stay cognizant of the fact that the crisis will pass.

Post-Crisis

As the crisis ebbs, there’s always a temptation to return as quickly as possible to business as usual. But, especially in the period immediately following the crisis, it’s important to keep in mind there will be residual awareness of the crisis. 

That means you need to be thoughtful about your marketing and communications so you don’t stumble across a tripwire. 

Just as importantly, integrating what you’ve learned from the crisis into your communications and marketing programming will help strengthen both in the long term.