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Blogs  / April 22, 2021

How to prepare for a PR crisis

by Kelly Byrd, Director of Product Marketing

The best way to prepare for a crisis is to invest in a crisis communications response and management program.

In a time of crisis, communicators need to act decisively and quickly with transparent responses. Getting approved responses and researching a situation takes time and can often be delivered too late. However, with structure, you can put together an effective crisis communications plan. To help you get organized, we have created a PR Crisis Preparedness Checklist.

Identify the types of crises your business is most likely to face.

Some of these will be different for every company—depending on factors like your scale, organizational structure, the technology you leverage, and your geographic location. For example, a certain technology is your main competitive advantage, your organization may be more prone to a technological crisis. In addition, there are incidents that may occur regardless of the type of business and industry you are in, such as sexual harassment, workplace violence, lawsuits, or key public-facing employees being dismissed.

Expect the unexpected.

To be better prepared for the unexpected, it is also useful to come up with a number of less likely scenarios to include in your crisis response and management plan. Your executive team, communications team and the entire company can put their heads together to draw on personal experiences and research additional examples from other companies. Contingency planning will get you far when it comes to crisis response.

Listen, listen, listen!

Media monitoring is essential to being prepared and catching a PR crisis early and quickly. You’ll need to have a monitoring platform, and identify who is responsible for listening, and when. Here are a few specific tools that our customers use for ongoing media monitoring and crisis preparedness:

  • Brand Sentiment: keep track of the tone of coverage about your brand and your competitors
  • Research Trends: identify whether this crisis or other issues are affecting your industry overall
  • Message Pull-Through: see how often spokespeople, products and specific messaging are being included in your earned media and newswire coverage, and owned media
  • Power of Voice™: identify top-ranking coverage for your brand, including crisis coverage, with optional sentiment filters
  • Competitive Intelligence: identify whether competitors are being mentioned in coverage of this crisis or other issues

Develop and circulate a crisis management plan.

Being ready with a PR crisis management plan not only shows that you are prepared and in control of your response, but it also saves everyone involved unnecessary stress and confusion.

Here are the key elements of a crisis response and management plan to consider:

  • A crisis management protocol: think of it as the steps that need to happen to develop the best possible response and action plan in an event of a crisis. For example, assessing the facts, identifying key response team members and advisors, review and approval workflow, and roles and responsibilities, etc.
  • Contact information for the key people involved: these are all of the people who may be needed during a crisis, such as the CEO and the executive team, company spokespeople, marketing and social media managers, subject matter experts, legal team, as well as friendly media contacts, influencers and brand ambassadors.
  • Details for your communication channels: prior to the crisis, choose which communication channels will work best for reaching your key internal and external stakeholders. And remember to include multiple channels, for example, social media, blog and email, because different people prefer different ways to connect with you.
  • A media monitoring solution: media monitoring will assist in crisis preparedness by identifying and surfacing negative trends and potential issues before they reach significant momentum.

The development of this plan will likely involve various teams in your organization, and once the initial iteration is done you will need to circulate it and keep it up-to-date, so that everyone knows what to do in the time of crisis.

Prepare draft messages and content guidelines.

While you won’t be able to draft the exact messages for every crisis, it is important to have templates in place that can be easily adapted when time is of the essence. You can create a repository of holding statements for those potential issues that you have already identified in steps one and two of this checklist, and use those as the basis for any crisis. It is also necessary to develop content guidelines and policies that provide clear instructions for crisis communications.

Create and train a crisis response team.

Navigating a crisis is not a solo race—it’s a team sport. There are many aspects to addressing an issue, and you will need a lot more than just one pair of hands.

First, map out who needs to receive your company’s communications, such as the various stakeholder groups including employees, customers, investors, influencers and the media. Once you have the list, you can decide who will respond to, inform and manage each of these audiences, act as spokespeople interacting with the public and the media, keep the executive team informed, and monitor all the information and activity. Everyone on your crisis response team will need to be trained and provided the tools that they will need in a crisis.

Keep your plan up-to-date and practice often.

Using your list of potential crises, along with the crisis management protocol, content guidelines and response team in place, you can simulate crisis situations of different types and severity and do practice runs demonstrating how you would tackle them. Also, make sure your crisis response plan is comprehensive and flexible, addressing multiple scenarios and including any recent external and internal changes. Test it, iterate and then test again. The difference: feeling confident during a crisis versus making knee-jerk reactions in the heat of the moment.

Join us for Crisis Communications: Preparation & Management Essentials webinar on Thursday, May 13th. In this session, our panelists will discuss steps for building effective crisis communications preparation and management plans, what to do during a crisis, as well as how to move forward.