PR Crisis Management Guide 2021

16 mins read

None of us is immune from crisis. The coronavirus pandemic has proven this fact better than anything else in this world. All businesses have changed. Many have survived, some have shut down. Being ready to handle unexpected scenarios and survive in a crisis is especially important for public relations teams. What are the key PR crisis guidelines that businesses should follow? Let’s discuss. 

The main goal of a PR crisis plan is to help organizations protect their reputation while involving reputable media channels and providing them with accurate information validated by experts in your field. The main thing every business should do is get ready for a crisis and create an anti-crisis plan. 

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What is a Crisis?

Simply put, a crisis is an unexpected situation with the potential to harm your business. When everything smoothly runs, it’s relatively easy for companies to maintain a positive reputation and establish a good relationship with the audience. However, the scenario is different when a crisis breaks. Your business should be ready to face unexpected difficulties that you couldn’t even suggest would occur. In such situations, comradery plays significant importance for the organization. 

Your company may deal with such examples of crises as financial difficulties, team crises, operational issues that prevent you from delivering your services, a disaster at one of your facilities, etc.

Depending on the type of crisis your company faces, the PR team should cooperate with the HR, safety, health, legal or other departments to develop the proper anti-crisis plan. There are many factors that a PR crisis team should handle. One of them is the responsibility of taking care of your company’s reputation. Whatever happens to your organization, it’s vital to have a well-thought-out crisis communication strategy documented somewhere central so that it can be easily checked and reviewed whenever it’s needed. 

Getting Ready for a Crisis

Businesses should be ready to face a crisis even when things run smoothly and nothing predicts any difficulties. It’s a must-follow rule for businesses of any size and niche to complete a SWOT (Strength, Weakness, Opportunity, Threat) analysis that predicts any crisis that might happen during the next 12 months. While working on the document, it’s recommended to consult with the company’s leadership team to develop several most likely crisis scenarios and clarify how to handle them. It’s also vital to create a clear PR crisis plan for further reference in emergency cases. 

Different companies may face different types of crises. A telecommunication company may face the risk of security breaches or having their clients’ personal data stolen. An airline company should prepare a scenario where an aircraft fails. A food company might need to recall a batch for health and safety reasons. 

A company can easily handle the crisis in a perfect scenario when they know what situations may occur. Forewarned, forearmed. 

One of the most vivid examples of how a company can survive the coronavirus pandemic is the case study shared by ALDI, a German supermarket chain operating in Ireland. When the COVID-19 covered the world, ALDI stakeholders implemented preventive measures focused on lessening the risk of spreading the virus among their customers and staff. Besides limiting the number of customers allowed to be in-store simultaneously, the company dedicated several hours for seniors, meaning that other shoppers were encouraged to visit the store at different times.

The company also supported its employees while increasing salaries by 10% extra during the pandemic. ALDI implemented a rapid-payment system to get paid for deliveries within five days to ensure that all their suppliers had the adequate cash flow to continue trading. 

While developing a comprehensive plan covering all aspects and personalities engaged in business during the pandemic, the company managed to survive and improve its reputation among customers and partners alike. 

While working on the PR crisis plan, businesses should consider paying more attention to such factors as:

  • Brand and reputation. To survive in a crisis, your brand, its products and services should have credibility. A crisis can put everything at risk. To survive and stay the course, the PR team should be aware of the particular steps to retain goodwill and credibility with the public.
  • Getting ready for a crisis before it occurs. It applies to establishing your brand’s reputation in a peacetime while participating in charity partnership, community initiatives, and similar programs. 
  • Maintaining a strong reputation with the help of media channels. It’s appreciated if your company’s CEO and leadership interview the leading media channels before a crisis breaks. If the PR team organizes interviews with key media channels and journalists several times per year, your brand will be treated with more sympathy in difficult times. 

Managing a PR crisis plan is a crucial point for public relations teams. Relying on an untrained team that has never faced similar situations is rather risky. However, if they manage the crisis, a company will quickly see the positive results of every PR team’s effort. 

Steps to Take During a Crisis

Every step taken during a crisis should be well-thought-out and properly coordinated. First and foremost, it’s vital to clarify each team member’s role and brief your team. The PR crisis team needs to work together with the senior members of all company’s departments to communicate similar messages across all chosen platforms. 

When a company faces a crisis, every spokesperson who will communicate with the media channels and journalists should know which members of the PR team are responsible for handling crises and whom they can ask for a consultation before declaring public speeches. The PR crisis team should also be responsible for training your company’s executives yearly.

The PR crisis response plan should clearly define the roles and responsibilities of the company’s spokespersons. Every team member involved in a crisis should be well-trained, even if they are not involved in any public events. 

Map out your stakeholders, including media channels, your company’s clients, investors, partners, employees, etc. The message that you deliver depends on the audience that will hear it. For example, local journalists will care a lot about job losses when a company makes redundancies. In contrast, business journalists will be more interested in the report about the impact of stock prices. 

Keeping staff updated. Communication within your team is important, especially in a crisis. If any accidents or issues occurred in any facility, the company’s leadership should inform the staff about it to avoid misunderstanding and reveal their care and concern. Similarly to posting updates on media channels, businesses need to share communication updates with employees using a corporate email channel, company chat, etc. It’s up to your company to decide how this information will be introduced to employees. Some of the most popular solutions are through organizing team briefings where everyone has the right to speak. 

Keep the public updated and protect your company’s reputation while publishing a holding statement. The document provides a brief report of the actions taken by the company to face and overcome a crisis. Whenever you notice that something threatens your brand’s reputation, the PR crisis team will act quickly and be precise in every step they take and the word they say. Your company’s official statement should not reveal commercially sensitive information but appeal to the three major factors commonly affected by a crisis – people, planet, and profit. The holding statement should never speculate but include only the basic information and proven facts about a crisis. If the key facts are not known, they should be clearly stated as well. 

Express care and concern to everyone who has been affected in a crisis. Whatever happens, it shouldn’t be left unnoticed. Communicate that the situation is being taken care of at the most senior level. It will only help your business get more public trust if your company’s seniors publicly express sympathy and regret to the families of lost employees.

Define your channels for communicating with the public during a crisis. The most common solutions include:

  • Newsroom. It’s the first place to which journalists will refer in search of the official statement and public information. Ensure that your newsroom is well-organized and always up-to-date. The contact details should be easy to reach and updated. During times of a crisis, you may initially post a holding statement and proceed with further updates when more details are available.
  • Media list. One of the best and most effective ways to reach out to journalists is by sending them email updates. Every business should have a media list created before a crisis. It will also come in handy to your company when you want a wider community of people to learn about your new product or service, or simply share your company;s updates with the world. 
  • Press conferences. Holding a press conference is one of the most effective ways to let journalists pose questions to the company’s senior management team. As a rule, the CEO and one of the subject matter experts answer journalists’ questions. The press conference commonly begins with a prepared statement written by the PR team and CEO. A set of questions and answers follows it. You can never predict whose expertise will be needed at the press conference to answer the questions and properly keep your company’s reputation. That’s why it’s appreciated when all managers at the director level are present. 
  • Social media may not be the primary communication channel with the audience during a crisis. However, the PR crisis team may use it to direct the audience to your company’s newsroom where they can find all the details. It’s vital to have a team member taking care of your brand’s social media channels. Even if you don’t post anything there, it’s vital to follow updates, scan any mentions about your organization, and prepare quick responses.
  • Media monitoring is an essential activity that lets your company listen to what people are saying across all social media channels and realize in what tone users speak about your brand. It may be neutral, positive, or negative. Based on this knowledge, you can adjust your activities and public speeches. 

When a Crisis is Gone

Everything in this world begins and ends sooner or later. The same rule applies to a crisis, resulting in positive or negative outcomes for a brand. No matter how it ends, learning and concluding is vital for managing the crisis communication process. Businesses should be prepared for a similar situation to happen in the future once again. While learning and examining the situation thoroughly, a company can be more prepared for a future crisis or even predict it and avoid it from happening. Moreover, every employee who took part in managing a crisis should be provided with feedback and further training if needed. 

After a crisis is gone, a PR crisis team should make a report that examines how the company managed to handle the situation, what was the public reaction to the brand’s announcements, how the team’s relationship with the media helped in the situation, what was the internal feedback of the company’s CEO on how the PR crisis team’s performance. 

All of these things matter in a crisis, before and after it occurs. Learning from your company’s experience should help your team be ready for facing similar situations in the future and handling them on the highest level. 

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Nastya Zelenovskaya

Content marketing manager at PRNEWS.IO.

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