We’ve all heard the saying ‘there is no such thing as bad publicity.’ You only need to look at examples like the American Airlines saga, where a customer was physically hauled off a plane, to realise that this is not the case. It’s important to have a crisis PR strategy in place in case such a situation occurs.

At best, an organisation that fails to deal with a PR crisis effectively will be viewed as inept, and at worst, negligent. Unfortunately the problems associated with PR crisis management don’t stop there. A PR crisis can have long term reputational, and financial impacts.

The steps that you need to take to address these issues are not in themselves complex, but they are essential. Here are 9 tips to consider that will help you effectively deal with a PR crisis.

1. Identify Your Crisis Communication Team

The first step in preparing for a PR crisis is selecting a Crisis Team for the company. Usually this will be a small group of senior executives, the company CEO, a representative from your PR firm or in-house PR team, and a legal counsel. One of the team will be selected to represent the company as its spokesperson. This group will be your executive board who will come together in the case of an emergency.

If you are running a small to medium sized firm you will likely not have access to the necessary level of in-house support and expertise that you need to form a crisis communications team. In such an instance hiring a PR agency with experience in dealing with crisis communications can be the most cost effective solution.  

The Crisis Team will convene in the case of a PR crisis, but not all members will have an active role to play. Depending on the crisis, sometimes this team will need to be supplemented by people who have knowledge of the event in hand, and specialist consultants who have expertise in this field.

It is worth emphasising that managing a PR crisis is normally an issue of managing public opinion, and this is why having a PR expert involved is so important. However, some PR crises do end up in court which is why it is advisable to have legal counsel available to provide guidance on what should and should not be said in the case of a PR crisis.

2. Prepare for All Eventualities

Frontline emergency services personnel and the armed forces are used to dealing with an emergency. This isn’t down to luck or chance. They plan, prepare, and practice. As a result, when a crisis unfolds they know what they should do – and it should be the same for your business.

The first time you convene your Crisis Communications Team you can start preparing a crisis strategy. The starting point is a brainstorming session to map out all of the potential crises that could occur.

This brainstorming session will provide the basis for a Crisis Response Plan, where you map out responses to an emergency. This plan also needs to define who the key spokesperson is, and who should be contacted in case of an emergency.

Of course, it is impossible to predict every kind of crisis that can happen. That said, it is possible to create a Crisis Response Strategy for most potential crises. This will provide the framework for how to react to an unexpected event.

3. Nominate a Spokesperson

One of the most important parts of dealing with a PR crisis is how the spokesperson reacts to questions by the press, and how comfortable they are in front of the camera. You will need to nominate a primary spokesperson as well as a backup spokesperson who is ready to react if needed.

Dealing with the media in a crisis requires a special skill set. It is vital to choose someone who can think quickly on their feet, react intelligently, and is calm in front of the camera. This might not be the qualities that your CEO or Head of Marketing has, so ensure you are confident in your choice.

4. Spokesperson Training

Each of the designated spokespeople for an organisation should be trained in how to manage the media, both for one-on-one interviews and group interviews. This kind of PR crisis training is provided by specialist PR companies.

This is something that we at OggaDoon have extensive experience with. As a specialist PR company that is engaged by clients working in a variety of sectors, we are used to developing crisis response plans, implementing those plans at a moment’s notice, and undertaking PR crisis training.

It is important for the spokesperson to receive crisis PR training, because the type of questions they receive, and the manner in which they are made can be very different to a regular day-to-day interview. Spokesperson training prepares the person to be ready to respond to aggressive questioning in a calm manner, while clearly conveying information to the journalist.

5. Establish Notification and Monitoring Systems

In the event of a crisis it is essential that you can get hold of people straight away. This means having multiple ways of communicating with individuals; phone, email, social media, etc. While it might sound like a basic step, it is important that the contact details for all members of your Crisis Communication Team are stored in one place, which key people know how to access. It is essential to establish this notification system pre-crisis, because the last thing you want to be doing in the event of an emergency is to have a manager desperately searching for the contact details of your spokesperson.

In addition to establishing a system for notifying stakeholders, it is essential to develop a system for monitoring the PR crisis as it occurs. There are a variety of paid monitoring services that offer social media tracking, as well as press tracking that range from free solutions such as Hootsuite and Google notifications, through to paid tools.

6. Create Holding Statements

As part of your crisis response plan it is important to develop holding statements. These messages are designed to be used immediately after a crisis breaks. The purpose of the holding statement is to have information to provide to media outlets, prior to the designated spokesperson interacting with the media.

A holding statement is normally quite general. For example: “We will be providing additional information when it is available and posting it through our social media channels and on our website.”

The Crisis Communications Team should develop a holding statement for all of the potential crises that have been identified. In a large organisation these statements should be available to all communications staff, as many PR crises are the result of local or regional events.

7. Identify Your Stakeholders

In the event of a crisis it is important to be proactive in engaging with stakeholders. As part of your PR crisis strategy you should identify the most important media outlets by drawing up a press list of journalists that you can contact. This enables the spokesperson to stay on top of the story and have more control over what is discussed in the press.

8. Test Your PR Strategy

The most important thing to keep in mind when a PR crisis unfolds is to stay calm. A good way to ensure that everyone follows the preparations, as outlined above, is to run a PR crisis drill. These drills are a way for your Crisis Communication Team to practice working together, which will make the team more efficient in the event of an actual emergency.

If you haven’t made all of the necessary preparations your reaction will be delayed. Being unable to provide quick responses to an unfolding PR crisis can be a disaster in its own right. These tests will help you improve your Crisis Response Plan, which will help your team’s response in a genuine emergency.

9. Post-Crisis Analysis

The eight points listed above are essential steps that you need to take that will put you in the best position to deal with a PR crisis. In the eventuality that a situation occurs, it’s important to review how the Crisis Communication Team reacted, and if the Crisis Communication Plan was effective.

The formal analysis should review how the story unfolded in the media and how the company reacted. By taking the steps listed earlier this review will highlight more of the things that you did right, than mistakes that were made.

So what’s next?

Unfortunately mistakes, and PR crises an eventuality that many businesses will encounter. While they can’t be avoided, the problems can be mitigated with by developing a coherent strategy.

9 Steps of Crisis PR ManagementNeed a hand? OggaDoon are experts in PR crisis communications, and we are here to take the weight from your shoulders. Get in touch to learn more.