Preparing for a PR crisis requires getting out of the mindset that keeps us busy executing and measuring our tactical goals. Just because we have a social media manager who can push a message out in 140 characters or less several times a day doesn’t mean we have a mechanism in place to handle a full-blown PR crisis. That’s why being prepared for a crisis before it begins is the right strategy, here are 6 of the 10 steps. Access the other four steps, along with invaluable tips in our free ebook, Media Intelligence for Crisis Communications.

Step 1: Add Contingency Planning to Job Goals

Amidst your daily routine, you might not be able to design a protocol for every potential crisis right away. Pace yourself. Map out two or three crisis protocols per quarter. And make sure that accomplishing this goal is part of your performance review.

Step 2: Search for Early Warning Signs

A powerful media intelligence tool doesn’t just monitor your brand mentions. You can use it to set up searches on any number of topics and keep on top of them in all your channels.

Start by making a list of the kinds of messages you’ve already put out that have met resistance. At any point, this same resistance might come back, get amplified, and take on a life of its own. You’ll also want to talk with sales reps, customer support, and legal counsel on issues that they’ve encountered. Once you’ve made a list of crisis triggers, create news, and social searches for them.

To help you get started, here are some examples:

Executives: Journalists, analysts, and sometimes even customers pay attention to what high-ranking executives say and do. And so should you. Keep on top of their Twitter and Facebook feeds, what videos and blogs they post, and how everything they are putting out into the world is received and amplified.

Competitors: Pay as much attention to competitor brand mentions as you do your own. Their crisis could easily become yours. And if a competitor decides to come after you, you’ll want to know about it first and respond before others have a chance to amplify their message.

Industry news: Sometimes a PR crisis will hit you by association. By keeping track of how your industry is perceived and any events that might impact it (such as natural disasters or newly introduced legislation) you are prepared to address these issues as an industry leader.

Events: Keep track of trending topics related to the event to help prevent speakers and reps from getting caught with their guards down.

Controversy: A media intelligence tool enables you to keep track of any number of business and political keywords. You’ll know when hot-button topics are trending and get ready to explain your position on them before you are equated with the fallout they’ve generated. 

Complaints: Make a list of complaints and keep an eye out for them in your search results. Once an influencer amplifies customer concerns, they can be cemented as “expert opinion,” and your credibility can suffer longstanding damage.

Step 3: Create a Crisis Management Workflow

Start by outlining the internal steps you need to take before releasing a public statement. Then assign stakeholders where relevant. For example:

Assess the situation – Hopefully your company has got some feet on the street to report back on your crisis with first-hand insights, but use media intelligence to understand the full scope of the communications landscape and all of the points you’ll need to address.

Assign duties within your team – When you’re engaged on multiple fronts, you’ll need to man various stations. Decide who will manage influencers, keep the executive team informed, serve as liaison to other key stakeholders (including partners, customers, members, etc.), and record every detail, action taken, external response, and resolution.

Identify key advisors – A PR crisis may require technical information or strategic insight that you’ll need to get from leaders in IT, accounting, HR, or elsewhere. Identify all relevant functions specific to a given crisis and how to contact them quickly.

Draft your statement– The head of PR may be responsible for doing this, or it may fall to the agency that the head of PR should already have on speed dial.

Initial review – It’s always a good idea to have your CMO review your statement (or the agency’s), as he or she will undoubtedly be asked to defend it.

Legal review – Any statement you make during a time of crisis should be reviewed by counsel to assess its legal consequences and minimise damage should legal action be taken against the company.

CEO review – During a PR crisis, your CEO (likely your company’s primary spokesperson) must be kept in the loop.

Step 4: Establish a Notification System

Break down your audience, both internal and external, into key stakeholders and list the best channels to reach them. Chapter 3 explores in detail how to communicate with and engage your audience as you respond to a crisis.

Step 5: Have as Much Written Ahead of Time as Possible

Because social media moves so quickly, it can hurt your brand to wait for executive stakeholders to approve detailed statements. Having something pre-approved that acknowledges your awareness of the problem without saying too much will go a long way in putting your audience at ease. Don’t forget that how long it takes for you to get your initial response out could be a detractor’s next headline.

Here is a fill-in-the-blank statement that can be used in any number of situations:

A ___________________ at ___________________ involving __________________ occurred today at _________________. The incident is under investigation and more information is forthcoming.


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Step 6: Finalise Key Messages and Update Corporate Talking Points

Once the worst is over—but before you reach for a beer and put it all behind you—you’ll want to craft a final word. Explain what your company learned from the crisis and how you’ve adapted processes, policies, or products accordingly. Remember, people will want to know you’ve taken action, not just paid lip service. You can then update any relevant company-wide talking points.

Once you prepare for PR crisis, you’ll be ready, if, when, and to what degree it may impact your company and brand. How your brand reacts to its community, audience, and detractors may have wide-encompassing repercussions. It’s hard to prepare for every contingency, so try to prepare for the ones you can by downloading our Media Intelligence for Crisis Communications ebook.

Media Intelligence for Crisis Comms