Keep your cool with PR crisis management planning

(Posted on 04/11/20)

Keep your cool with PR crisis management planning

By the nature of a crisis, it is difficult to predict, but it is essential to prepare for one. This year has seen many organisations either having to enact a business crisis plan or else develop one pretty quickly. Having a PR crisis plan is no less important.

Whether your company is a car manufacturer that cheated on its emissions tests, a telecoms manufacturer whose products have a tendency to catch fire, a clothing line accused of racism in its advertising, or simply a small SME with a food hygiene issue, every company has its own definition of what would constitute a PR crisis.


What is a PR crisis?

Broadly speaking, a PR crisis is a situation that threatens an organisation’s integrity or reputation, usually brought on by adverse or negative media attention. The three big threats a PR crisis can create are public safety, financial loss and reputation loss. Importantly, the damage can be minimised if handled correctly.


How does PR crisis management planning work?

The work of crisis communication planning is two-fold, divided into preparation and response. You can’t have one without the other. It should be considered as a kind of insurance policy for the long-term health of the company.

If you don’t already have one, make it a priority to draw up a PR crisis communications plan. Once a plan is agreed you can react quickly and efficiently, should a crisis arise.

Identify your key audiences to be considered in the event of a crisis. This should include local, regional, and national media. However, it is not just the media who need to be considered when communications are being prepared. Other audiences are likely to include employees, the local community, and your customers. None of these should be forgotten when it comes to your crisis planning.

In the event of a crisis, media interest will build so it is useful to have names, numbers and email addresses to hand of key journalists who are likely to be most interested in your ‘story’ and the priority order they should be responded to.

Appoint a crisis team. This should include a spokesperson, a back-up spokesperson, and a technical expert. Your spokespeople need to be comfortable in front of a TV camera and calm with reporters. They should be skilled in handling the media and directing responses, able to speak without using jargon, be very knowledgeable about your brand and the crisis at hand. You should assess the need for media training or a refresher at the earliest opportunity. Should a crisis occur, there will be no time for training.

You will need to allocate a crisis centre, or control room, where the crisis team will be based. If media attention is likely, designate a media room too. Controlling the interview process is key to managing a crisis and it is always better to overprepare. A media room should be a space where interviews can be conducted more easily, avoiding an ‘at the gate’ confrontational situation.


In the event of a crisis

Once the situation has been assessed, the crisis plan should be followed. Ensure you have a constantly updated media contact log so all enquiries can be recorded, along with all responses, including their content, date, and time. This ensures that no journalist is either left waiting or gets bombarded with multiple responses.

Draft, approve and issue a holding statement as soon as possible, even if there is no definite news to report. A promise that we are doing all we can to resolve the situation/ throw light on what is occurring etc is better than silence.

Your website and social media should be updated at the earliest opportunity with any further statements prepared for the media and a contact number for media enquiries.

Have information / fact sheets about your brand readily available.

Remember, above all, when dealing with the media in a crisis situation, tell it all, tell it fast and tell the truth!


After the crisis, the all-important wash up

In the aftermath of a crisis, the team should meet to report back and analyse what happened, how it was handled, and examine what aspects of the crisis plan can be refined or changed.

For help and advice on PR crisis management, talk to the Zebra team.