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4 Proactive Steps for PR Crisis Management

116 & West


Proactive Crisis Management

Crisis management has become a crucial component of public relations (PR) in the last decade due to the viral nature of social media. This changing landscape implores businesses to prepare for a PR crisis. Prevention and preparation are fundamental for a best-case scenario for a company that finds itself in this situation. Let’s explore what crisis management is, why it’s important, and recommended guidelines for businesses in the 21st century public eye. 

 What is Crisis Management?

Crisis management, or crisis communications, is a subset of PR. Crisis management teams step in to ease the backlash when something goes wrong – a culturally insensitive advertisement, a foodborne illness, or a tone-deaf tweet.

At its best, crisis management works proactively (e.g., before the crisis has occurred). Crisis management teams work together to anticipate particular problems their company could face and devise a step-by-step plan to respond.

Why is Crisis Management Important?

Public perception of a brand is powerful. We hold companies accountable for how they react to crises. Do they respond appropriately? If so, do they do it quickly enough?

Think of any quandary a company has found itself in the past few years. Unfortunately, there are plenty to choose from, and some are especially cringe (think Kendall Jenner Pepsi Ad). On the other hand, Chipotle’s E Coli disaster didn’t tank its reputation primarily because of their response. Steve Ells, Chipotle’s founder, released an apology and a comprehensive food safety plan. 

No company is immune to a PR crisis. Let’s dig in and find out how to prepare.

Being Prepared is Crucial in Crisis Management 

Lacking a solid crisis management plan affects a company’s bottom line (loss of profits, decrease in stock value). Adding insult to injury is the potential of losing credibility and positive public perception.

With a crisis management plan built out in advance, businesses can respond more thoughtfully, faster, and in a way that resonates with their audience. When the message is more thoughtful and timely, companies are less likely to lose credibility–at the very least, it will help mitigate the damage.

What Goes Into Proactive Crisis Management?

To be prepared for a PR crisis, the following guidelines are imperative. 

Step 1: Form a Crisis Team 

First and foremost, identify key team members that will be called to action should something go awry. Appoint a spokesperson to handle direct media communication, ideally with media training. Once the team is identified, they will implement the next steps of proactive crisis management.

Step 2: Brainstorm Potential Crises

Once the team is established, brainstorm possible scenarios that could arise. Let’s use a restaurant as an example. This team should be prepared to respond to the following possibilities: unintentionally spreading a foodborne illness, bad reviews, or allegations of poor working conditions. 

Once potential disasters have been established, it’s time to move forward with the next phase of proactive crisis management: developing communication plans.

Step 3: Create Communication Plans

Writing communication plans is perhaps the most crucial step in proactive crisis management. Note that plans are plural because a company must have both an internal and an external communication plan.

An internal communication plan speaks directly to the company’s employees. We’ll use a food-borne illness outbreak as our example. An internal communication plan for a restaurant in this unfortunate scenario would include:

  • Identify the spokesperson that employees should direct media inquiries to with the understanding that all other employees should not speak to the media 
  • What employees should say to family and friends
  • An overview of what the restaurant is doing to rectify the foodborne illness situation (e.g., no longer sourcing food from the offending supplier)
  • Hygiene best practices to prevent a future foodborne illness
  • A media relations list including journals to reach out to proactively

The restaurant’s external communication plan would slightly differ and should include:

  • A sincere apology to infected patrons and a date when customers can safely return to the establishment
  • A statement identifying the food source and a decision about whether or not they will continue to do business with the affected supplier
  • Hygiene practices utilized and additional practices to prevent future outbreaks
  • An apology from restaurant manager or CEO
  • Steps to assure the public it will not happen again
  • Cohesive social media strategy detailing when to respond, how to respond, and who will respond across all platforms

Step 4: Examine the Effectiveness of The Crisis Management 

A company’s crisis management team should assess the success or failure of the response by collecting quantitative and qualitative data. Solicit internal feedback from employees (that are not on the crisis management team), monitor external responses (from customers, media, etc.), and assess the numbers (profits, stock value, etc.). This data will identify existing gaps to mitigate future crises. 

Know When to Bring in the Experts

The most successful crisis management teams know when to bring in experts for help. This can be initiated after a fumbled crisis response or before a dilemma.

While hiring a crisis management firm may seem excessive, it’s a proactive step that can be worthwhile in the long run. A minor crisis can quickly become costly if a company flubs the initial response. 

Crisis Averted 

Proactive crisis management has far-reaching consequences for a company’s employees, its bottom line, customers, and public perception. 

The more prepared a company is for an emergency, the more likely it will come out on top – or at the very least, with its head above water.

As Westies, we are seasoned professionals who handle all aspects of PR, especially crisis management. Need a plan? Hit us up.