10 Steps to Managing a PR Crisis

Fighting a PR crisis is like fighting a fire! Bring water!

When I was growing up I had no idea I would be a fireman (of sorts) one day. As a mater of fact, I don’t know anyone working in PR who knew they would be regularly putting out fires when they entered the field. Today I can say I’m a veteran: I am a PR pro, and I put out fires regularly. Truth is, a large portion of the work PR Pros do involves PR crisis management.  Here’s a secret: most of us enjoy the challenge and the rush of crisis communications, once we discover a way to manage the process.

Of course, you don’t ever want to be in a crisis, but it doesn’t have to be as bad as it sounds.  Over the years I have come up with a 10-step process that makes a PR crisis manageable.

Marc’s 10 Step PR Crisis Management Playbook

  1. Step 1: Take a deep breath. When a PR crisis comes about the first thing you need to do is: nothing.  Stop, close your eyes and take 5 slow deep breaths. Why? You need to be calm; your team is depending on you, and if you’re calm you will be better able to control the situation by keeping everyone else on the team calm.  We make better decisions when we are calm and in control than we do when we are panicked. Depending on how things go, you may need to repeat this step a few times.

First step in a PR crisis: take a deep breath! 10 steps to successful crisis management.

click to tweet!

  1. Step 2: Circle the wagons.  Take a few minutes to get in touch with all customer facing employees (other PR team members, the social media team, customer service, etc.). Brief them on what happened, the steps you will follow to react to the issue, initial instructions on how/if they should communicate externally, expected timeline for reaction and how they can help. I suggest asking each of these folks to begin tracking the PR crisis on their individual channels and keep you informed of any and all developments.
  2. Step 3: Investigate what happened. Now that you’re calm and everyone’s informed (which will drastically reduce your inbox submissions from your colleagues), you need to get the full story. Use your connections in the organization to determine exactly what happened. You need to know the entire story from an internal perspective, and how your customers perceive the incident externally. This can be the most time consuming step, but also the most important: you should not react to a PR crisis if you don’t know exactly what happened and why it happened.
  3. Step 4: Understand business impact. Is this PR Crisis having an immediate impact on business? Will it have a future impact on the business? Before you react, it’s important to know how your decisions will impact the business, revenue and your brand reputation.  This step will be very important as you begin to make decisions on messaging and your overall corporate stance on the crisis.
  4. Step 5: LISTEN UP! Use your PR and Social Media monitoring tools to take the pulse on the reaction of the media and your community. This step will tell you is if the crisis has made it to the attention of your customers or media yet. From there your goal is to gauge the significance of the PR crisis: just how big is this issue? Are there hundreds of people talking about this incident, or only a few? What is the overall sentiment? Are people supporting you? Is the media reacting? Have any stories been published?
  5. Step 6: Decide on corporate position and messaging. Armed with the full story, an understanding of the business impact, and a complete picture of the reaction so far, you will have a clear idea of the position your company should take. From there you can write up a quick messaging platform and get buy in from your executive team. I’d expect a bit of back and forth with key decision makers, but I can assure you that your research and preparations will be appreciated and make this process smooth.
  6. Step 7: Make decisions on channels of distribution. Based on your corporate positioning and overall messaging you need to determine the channel/s that best deliver them to your audience. These days there are many channels to consider: you can post on your corporate blog, through social media, in a press release, directly to the media, or a combination. When making this decision, keep in mind the basic differences in each channel. Social media a fantastic choice if you are prepared for a dialogue and accept the fact that it will be hard to control your message. A Press release or a blog post are both great options if you want to broadcast and control the conversations around your message. Every situation will be different, and you’ll need to use the info you’ve gathered so far to decide on the best distribution.
  7. Step 8: Get the word out. You’ve done your homework, gotten the buy-in on messaging, and have decided on distribution channel.  It’s now time to get your message out to the channels you’ve chosen.
  8. Step 9: Monitor reaction and react as needed. You’re not done yet! With your message out in the world you need to circle back with your public facing teams and monitor. Is your PR crisis still a crisis? What happens next will ultimately depend on the reaction of the media, your community on social media, etc. As you monitor, keep in mind that it can take a few days for a fire to die down. Sometime you need to be patient and give it the time it needs, other times you may need to step in and offer additional statements or interviews. There are no hard and fast rules and you’ll need to make the call in real time.
  9. Step 10: Learn from the process. No one wants to see a PR crisis pop up, but I promise you one thing: no matter how things go, you will learn something valuable. Everything you learn will help your company understand how to avoid future crisis and will help you to efficiently managing your next crisis. Take what you’ve learned and apply the next time you have a fire to extinguish.


Optional Step 11 – Unwind. I usually like to include a step 11, because just like a volume dial on a guitar amp, 11 tips are better than 10.  My step 11 is to have a beer or glass of wine and wind down. You should choose your own form of relaxation, perhaps a jog or a massage? I try very hard to not make this step 1, no matter how tempting it might be.

The PR crisis steps can be complicated, especially when you take into account that you need to move very quickly in a crisis. Always aim to get through step 10 in hours, not days – faster if possible. Have you tried a similar process? What has worked, or not worked for you?

So I’m not a real fireman, but I like to tell my kids that if I worked in a firehouse I’d be the chief. They still don’t let me wear a fire hat in public, but they are coming around. And my local fire station won’t let me drive the fire truck – for some reason they reject my claims that I’m an extension of their team and have asked me to stop dropping by…  oh, well, at least the Dalmatian likes me. I guess I’ll stick to PR and leave the real fires to the experts.

A Click by Any Other Name: Why Going Viral is Better than a Sale | Social Media Word of Mouth

I changed my Facebook profile picture recently to this pic.  It was shared by 8 of my Facebook friends. As of today, it’s been shared overall 55 times (did you get that, Klout score?). This is a great example as to how quickly and easily people will share something that resonates, and illustrates the kind of exponential word of mouth marketing you can earn with the social share.

My Dad just emailed me a pretty cute video of a Beneful ad that was posted on YouTube 2 months ago.  The video has 3.4M views, which would indicate that my Dad wasn’t alone in liking this ad.

Now, 2 things struck me about getting this email (other than the fact that it reminded me of my favorite OK Go video):

1)    This is a really good example of how advertising becomes social marketing: it paid off with word of mouth on social channels (of which email is one).

2)    My Dad is one of the few people I know still using email to share this sort of content.  Cute.

That last is because my Dad isn’t on Facebook or Twitter.  (But be forewarned, teenage niece and nephew: it’s only a matter of time.)  Nonetheless, he took the time to Fwd: fwd: fwd: fwd: me this dog video, and that is evidence that technology is what primarily enables social word of mouth these days, even for retired Baby Boomers.

However, not every click is created equal.  As social media marketers, we must go into our programs understanding why inciting word of mouth is the primary goal.

Insofar as the job function of a social media marketing manager, shares (active, trackable engagement) that lead to impressions (passive and hard-to-track engagement) are what differentiate social media marketing from advertising.  This is to say that, once my Dad started emailing that ad around, it emerged from its contained advertising cocoon and became a beautiful social marketing butterfly.

However, focusing on shares doesn’t mean that social media marketers don’t have direct, measurable marketing goals.

  click to tweet!

The social media marketing discipline is still new enough that the social media marketer is typically going to be running any program that’s happening on that channel, which makes plenty of sense given that social media marketing channel strategy looks a lot like field marketing.

This is to say that we social media marketers are probably going to be running certain efforts that are designed for goals like lead capture or sales conversion, both of which lead to measurable social marketing ROI.  Any content put on your channel specifically designed for someone to take direct action back at you (rather than sharing out to their people) is a direct marketing effort despite being on a social channel, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not a social media marketing effort.

What it does mean is that you have more work to do if you want to incite 2 separate actions from your community, i.e. the response and then share.  And when you combine them both, you’ve hit the jackpot.

Now, which click is the more important from your core community on a direct marketing initiative?  The response, or the share?

If you picked “response,” I’m going to disagree with you.  I know, it sounds counterintuitive.  But realistically, the share (which is another term for word of mouth marketing) does more for you for several reasons.

Social media word of mouth gives you the impressions that lead to awareness.  No matter how you slice it, the more people become aware of your brand, the more people are likely to head down the happy path of conversion.

Social Media Word of Mouth: Why it Matters

1)    The number of people your content is going to be exposed to is now exponential.  When things go viral, there really is no limit to the amount of earned media you’re getting.

2)    People are more likely to pay attention to content from a person they’re following intentionally.  Their communities are now open to you, and even if you’re just making an impression, you make a better impression when you’re introduced by a friend than when you barge in on the party.

3)    It’s very likely that a lot of the folks in your social communities are also on your email lists.  You probably have other, more direct ways to contact them.

4)    As much as “impressions” are a soft metric, they are a real one.  We marketers say it takes up to 6 times for someone to remember you.  When your community members go to the effort of introducing you to a friend, they’re dumping a bunch more folks into the sales funnel for you.  And they themselves are probably moving farther down the happy path towards advocacy.

5)    You have no way of knowing where your audience is on the conversion funnel.  What you do know is that the more people you shepherd into the top of it (awareness), the more will make the happy trip down to the bottom (purchase).

6)    The more people see your offer, the more people are going to click on it.  Yes, fine, I am acknowledging that the ultimate business goal is clicks to conversion… but I’m also saying that you’re more likely to get more of those if your content is shared by your core community.  Sales is a numbers game, after all.

So, if you just put out an offer on your Facebook page, I am actually more interested in resulting word of mouth than I am in whether your community took it. That said, when you’re conceiving of your next piece of content, you’re better off thinking of ways to make your content shareable than you are in thinking of ways to spur the reaction. That will come on its own.

Media Database How-to: Using Beats & More to Find the Right Journalist

A good media database removes the blindfold so that you can hit your target every time.

PR professionals know that the first step (and half of the battle) to a successful pitch or press release is finding the right journalist. The Meltwater News media database has two ways to identify journalists: the more targeted keyword search (click here for my post on the media database keyword search) and the journalist directory. The directory is the traditional way of identifying journalists in a media database, including a name search and filters by beat, geography, publication, role, etc. Meltwater’s media database allows you to filter using one or several of these criteria to narrow down relevant journalists.

The journalist directory plays a central role in several types of PR campaigns and has ad hoc uses that aid your daily PR to-dos. Below I’ve put together a media database how-to that covers three of the most common PR use cases and how to quickly find the best contacts using the Meltwater News suite.

Geographic Targeting | Media Database Use Case #1

Your organization is hosting an event in a city where you don’t have established media relationships. You’re tasked with promoting the event both locally and nationally to generate press interest and drive attendance.

  • Select a geography

The “Location” filter is on the bottom left of the directory page. You have the option to enter a zip or postal code, a city and state/region, or to select a designated market area (DMA). By clicking the blue plus sign next to zip or state/region you can include multiple geographies in your search. For the most accuracy, use the DMA to capture major outlets and journalists in a city and its surrounding area.

  • Select a beat

The “Beat” filter is on the right side of the directory page. It includes more than 50 top-level beats and more than 1,000 specific sub-beats. Used in conjunction with the geographic filter, the beats will give you an even more qualified list of journalists to target to ensure that your event is a success.

Publication Targeting | Media Database Use Case #2

Your company is launching a new product and wants coverage in specific publications. You know of a handful of publications, but need to find the perfect journalist to pitch and you want to find a few more publications to coincide with a broader wire release on the product launch.

  • Find journalists at known publications

Click on the “Outlet” button in the top left of the “directory” page to search for publications instead of journalists. Just below is the “Outlet Info” filter. To find journalists within a single publication, type in its name and click “Filter” in the top or bottom right of the page. You can also add multiple publications by using the blue plus sign next to the “Name” box.

  • Discover new industry-specific publications

First, make sure that “Outlet” is selected in the top left of the page. To find publications specific to an industry, select the beat or beats that represent the industry. For a more targeted list of publications, use the “Outlet Info” filter in the top left of the page to designate circulation, frequency (daily, weekly, etc.), or medium (magazine, newspaper, radio, etc.). You can also specify a geography in the “Location” filter just below.

Ad hoc Journalist Research | Media Database Use Case #3

Your phone rings and it’s a journalist who’s interested in writing a piece about your company. You aren’t familiar with them and need to quickly judge if they’re a good fit for your organization.

  • Find a journalist by name

With “Journalist” selected in the top left of the page, type the journalist’s name into the “Journalist Info” filter just below. Click on the blue plus sign to add several journalists before clicking “Filter.” Meltwater’s media database takes this journalist research a step further as well! When you find the correct journalist in the results list, click on their name to go to their contact card. On the contact card you’ll find their most recently written articles as well as additional information including pitching tips, awards, schooling and interests.

These three use cases represent a few of the times when a journalist directory within a media database is useful. Meltwater’s media database combines the directory with an even more targeted keyword-driven search to give your campaign the best chance of success. If finding the right journalist is half the battle, a robust media database with targeted searching is the secret weapon that will let you spend more time pitching and less time searching.

This Week’s Epically Awesome Social Media Blog Posts (9/20/13)

Happy Friday, everyone! We’re back with another weekly round-up of the most epically awesome social media blog posts of the week. Give them a read, and let us know what your favorite blog post of the week was.

6 Ways to Use Embedded Tweets to Help Your Business

Embedded tweets are definitely one of the more underutilized, yet fantastic, features that Twitter has to offer. Check out this blog post to learn what they are and how to use them – and walk away with 6 actionable ideas for using embedded tweets to get more out of your Twitter presence.

How to Use Your Facebook Page Cover Photo to Drive Extra Traffic

Facebook recently updated their Cover Photo guidelines to allow calls-to-action, and this blog post offers some ideas on how to effectively use this to convert Facebook fans into leads. Check it out!

12 Awesome Social Media Facts and Statistics for 2013

As the social media landscape continues to evolve, it’s important for us social media marketers to stay on top of the rise and fall of different networks – as well as the demographics of their users. This blog post from Jeff Bullas does a nice job of summarizing the need-to-know information.

5 Ways to Sell with Social Media

With a big focus on social media ROI these days, it’s nice to see articles which talk about how to use social media in a way that leads to sales conversions. (I actually wrote one myself.) This blog post has 5 repeatable and effective ways to do just that without “detracting from the spirit of social media.”

Are Promoted Tweets a Waste of Time and Money?

Survey says: no. Promoted tweets help you expand the reach and increase the engagement of your content, and you only pay when someone replies to, clicks or retweets your post. This blog post is definitely worth a read if you have a strong focus on content marketing and want to see how social advertising can help you strengthen your content promotion strategy.

What are your favorite social media blog posts from this week? Let us know with a comment, or tweet it to us @Meltwater.

This Week’s Overwhelmingly Magnificent PR Blog Posts (9/20/13)

Hello, PR world! As the weekend descends upon us, we just couldn’t let you get by without reading this week’s overwhelmingly magnificent PR blog posts. Check these out for some food-for-thought:

3 Social Media Tools to Identify Influential Bloggers

From our friends at JeffBullas.com

As content marketing continues to move in on traditional media outlets, PR professionals
are learning how to use their outreach strategy to reach these new “publishers.” This blog post has three tips for reaching influential bloggers for earned coverage.

Five Tips to Get Last Minute Media Coverage

From our friends at Spin Sucks

Has your client asked you to achieve the impossible and get last minute media coverage? Take a breath, and follow these 5 steps – things may just work out in your favor.

4 Emails PR Should Never Send Journalists

From our friends at Sandstorm Media

If you’ve read our article PR Pros Outnumber Journalists 4:1, you can imagine the sheer volume of emails journalists receive on a daily basis. You also know some great tips to standing out amongst the people that make the mistakes listed in this blog post. Regardless, check out this post for some tips on what not to do.

Community Relations – A Two-Way Benefit for our Society

From our friends at Schnake Turnbo Frank

Are you looking to set up a community relations program, but don’t know where to start? This blog post suggests starting with your employees: ask them what their interests are, and what kind of program they would want to support. Getting internal stakeholders will ensure continued success.

Measuring the Value of PR: What Really Matters

From our friends at PR in your Pajamas

Don’t let PR measurement and analytics scare your right-brained little head – according to this blog post, the metrics that really matter are actually quite simple to attain and report on. If you need some quick tips on measuring your PR successes, this blog post is a must-read!

What are your favorite PR blog posts from this week? Let us know with a comment, or tweet it to us @Meltwater.