Category Archives: Crisis Communications

Crisis Communications: When to Hire a PR Team

Crisis Communications: When to Hire a PR Team

The questions don’t do the damage. Only the answers do.

~ Sam Donaldson, reporter and news anchor

The tragedy unfolding this week with the horrific crash of the German passenger plane in the French Alps demonstrates the need to have an informed spokesperson prepared to represent your organization if a public crisis occurs. Crisis communications planning should be an ongoing process for your business, with a plan of action ready to implement if the unthinkable happens. The last thing your organization needs is a series of public media mistakes and missteps when you are most exposed and vulnerable.

The best time to hire a crisis PR team is today, before any public relations disaster has occurred. Your team should anticipate a crisis and be prepared, trained and have a solid plan to follow in the event of a crisis. Time is critical in a PR crisis, and many well-intentioned mistakes can happen in the public and media scrutiny.  Your public relations team will help your business or nonprofit prepare documents, systems and people who know how to handle an emergency:

  • Crisis communications plan: Everyone from the CEO to the receptionist to your internal marketing and sales team needs to know who to turn to with questions and information in a crisis situation. There should be clearly written procedures on who to contact when an event occurs and who is in charge of managing and executing the crisis communication plan. Employees, volunteers, advocates, stakeholders and board members must be clearly informed who is authorized to speak on behalf of your organization.
  • Identified and trained spokespersons: You may use an employee as a spokesperson, or your PR team may handle all public and media inquiries if a crisis occurs. There are benefits to both options:
    • The public and media may respond better to the CEO or other senior member of your team, and have confidence in their visibility
    • a PR professional who is not a member of your team may be better equipped to provide unemotional and professional responses in a very stressful circumstance.
    • More than one person may be needed to communicate with the public: you may have one person designated as a media spokesperson, and another person designated to manage social media. Your crisis communications plan will clearly identify who takes the lead in all crisis communications to develop and deliver all crisis messaging.

Your PR team can help you decide who is best equipped to handle crisis communications, and identify contingency options. Media training for dealing with an aggressive media under the glare of cameras and microphones or on social media should be rehearsed before a crisis event occurs.

  • Contingency plans: No matter how solid your communications plan is, and how well trained your team is on how to handle a crisis, things happen. A PR professional has  already experienced crisis events with other clients, and can guide you through unexpected turns of event. In todays 24/7/365 instant news cycle and social media world, a story can change in an instant.

Hiring a PR team for crisis communications planning may seem expensive: but hiring a PR team after a crisis occurs to clean up the damage is even more expensive. Hiring public relations professionals to develop a crisis communications strategy before tragedy occurs is a smart investment in your company’s future.

For More Reading on Crisis Communications
Meltwater: 10 Step Crisis Communication Management
PR Daily: How to Create a Crisis Plan in Less Than 30 Minutes

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crisis management tips

Crisis Management: 3 Tips from the Headlines

Recent headlines have demonstrated the PR hit any business or organization can get when  questionable actions or comments by an employee, owner or public face go viral on social media. In an instant your reputation can be damaged and your fans become your biggest critics:

  • celebrity spokesperson accused of crimes in their personal life
  • business owner making hostile or discriminatory statements
  • customer lawsuit accusing your product of causing harm or being illegally manufactured
  • political groups take offense to your brand or message

PR Crisis Management Basics

1.  Have a Crisis Management Plan in Place Before a Crisis Occurs

Planning your crisis strategy while your business is under attack will prevent you from making decisions with a clear head. Hiring an experienced communications professional to help develop your crisis communications plan before an event occurs is a smart strategy so that your crisis plan is ready to implement if an event occurs:

  • designate your spokesperson
  • identify your crisis management team
  • build relationships with media, the public and stakeholders
  • monitor your social media reputation and authorize a social media manager
  • annually review, update and train your management team and employees

The discussion, planning and design of your organization’s crisis and reputation management strategy can help prevent your reputation being destroyed. Train your management team and employees to identify and address potential situations before they turn into a crisis.

2. Keep Your Cool

Information can quickly go viral on social media – whether the ‘facts’ are true or baseless. Whatever the situation, the quickest way to incite continued backlash is to become angry, defensive or hostile with the media or the public. It’s necessary and strategic to present your business’ side of the situation, and to address and correct incorrect information that is being circulated.

Media training and developing key messages are integral to assuring your message is delivered clearly and professionally to the public.

3.  Never Lie to the Public

In the age of social media there may be thousands of individuals who have the time, skills and focus to research and track down a cover-up or outright lie. The backlash from lying about a situation can far exceed the consequences of the actual event. Tell the truth, and tell it quickly is the fastest way for your organization to get ahead of a crisis.

Before speaking out on a situation take the time to find out the facts. However, the time-frame to track down events and issue a statement has grown shorter due to the rapid exchange of information on social media. When you don’t have the facts, admit it. Follow your crisis management plan to help identify the facts and communicate them to the public more efficiently and .

Having a crisis management plan in place before a crisis occurs can avert or control a PR disaster. Social media reputation management has introduced new complexities into crisis management planning. Hire an external public relations professional to develop your crisis management and provide expertise and resources to supplement the internal skills of your team, and provide guidance in the event a PR disaster occurs.

For More Information on Crisis Management in the Age of Social Media
Forbes: 10 Tips for Reputation and Crisis Management in the Digital World
PRnewsonline: 13 Tips for Effective Crisis Managment

Social Media and Crisis Communications

Social Media and Crisis Communication: Tips to Navigate the Crisis

People love to watch a crisis unfold. Why?

A crisis will spark conversation, drive traffic, and draw attention. People pay attention when the news is reporting an environmental mishap, a natural disaster, a horrific accident, a celebrity scandal – or embarrassing customer complaints and employee videos. People pay even more attention when these events happen in real time. Enter social media. The social and digital landscape of our media today has developed into a real-time conversation where the public can post or tweet their thoughts, praises, complaints, or general comments whenever they want to a worldwide audience. Businesses need to pay attention to the impact of social media when drafting their communications plan, and pay special attention to the role of social media in a crisis.

Any press isn’t good press. A crisis can either be an opportunity or detriment to a company. The key is how the business responds to a crisis. In fact, the response can actually be more important than the issue. Companies must have a well-developed and executed crisis communication plans, including the impact of social media, in order to provide appropriate responses before, during, and after a crisis. Developing a comprehensive crisis communications plan before a crisis occurs is a vital component of your overall business strategy.

How does a company navigate the rough waters of a crisis – whatever the crisis may be? Here are some tips from Ragan Communications to help weather the storm with confidence.

Crisis Communication Tips

1.    Be a good listener. In any situation, it is more important to listen first, think second, and speak third. In a crisis, it is essential. Social media has changed the media cycle and made it even more competitive. If you want social media to hear you during a crisis, a business has to listen to what the social channels are saying.
2.    Build a team. Your employees are probably the greatest, yet underutilized, source of social media savvy responders. Have a dedicated, informed employee trained and equipped to handle social media during a crisis.
3.    Be clear. It is important to match the message to the social media channel. Have an appropriate tone and wording for each group of customers – be concise, yet informative. Be honest and sincere. Stay authentic.
4.    Be prepared. Have content ready to go. This means scanning for any potential issues before they arise, and have responsive content ready to go. Media statements, tweets, videos, posts should all be prepared so there should be very little surprise when an issue develops into a crisis. But also be prepared to update, change and modify your social media plan as the situation evolves.
5.    Grow a thick skin. You won’t be able to please everyone. Resiliency is part of what makes a company strong and powerful. Social media has fans and haters, and expect to hear from both during your crisis.
6.    Practice your crisis plan. And then practice some more because practice doesn’t necessarily mean perfect, but it does mean you are more prepared to handle curveballs. The 24/7/365 nature of social media means the situation can change at any time, and for any reason.

How you respond to a crisis and how steadfast, honest and straight-forward you are in a crisis  will linger in the public’s mind much longer and stronger than the facts and figures.

For More Information:
Social Media Today: How to Use Social Media to Manage a Crisis
Social Time: Social Media During a Crisis: 5 Tips

tips on crisis communications

5 Crisis Communication Lessons from ABC’s Scandal

ABC’s popular hit Scandal  is inspired by real-life crisis management expert Judy Smith. Played by Kerry Washington, fixer Olivia Pope helps her clients – mainly government employees and politicians –  avoid scandal, manage the media, and rebuild their reputations. Olivia Pope has a few lessons to help crisis management professionals and business owners handle a crisis before, during and after it rears its head.

5 Crisis Communications Tips from Scandal

1.    Be prepared. An unforeseen crisis can happen at anytime, and to anyone. Crisis communication professionals anticipate a crisis before it even happens: even if they don’t know what crisis will occur. Denial is not your friend: the first step to address your communications crisis is to admit there is a crisis; ignoring it will not make the crisis go away. Evaluating your situation, planning, researching, and rehearsing a “mock crisis situation” are great ways to prepare for a potential issue and control damage if a crisis occurs. Carefully choose who your spokesperson will be, and prepare that person with media and communications training.

2.    Build a solid team. Regardless of how good you are at handling a crisis, you need a strong support team. The most successful crisis communications experts are supported by a diverse team of experts with knowledge and skills ranging from media relations, to ethics and the law. Experts from the field or industry of the crisis should be consulted for additional viewpoints and resources.

3.    Know your audience and tailor the communications to your audience and the specific situation. There will be questions that must be answered. Anticipate those questions and try to answer them before they are even asked. Be aware of who might be asking these questions: stakeholders, the public, media or suppliers. If you’re dealing with print and TV media, remember that reporters have deadlines. With social media, news is now a 24/7/365 endless cycle. Understand the situation: your audience, the severity of the situation, the industry, and the potential reactions you might get.

4.    Keep your cool. Think before you speak. It can be easy to let stress get the best of you when you are dealing with a crisis situation. It can create a chaotic environment for you, your team, and anyone else involved. Be confident. Keep a cool, calm, and collected head during a crisis. Both the crisis communications professionals and the client must remain calm throughout the crisis.

5.    Learn from your mistakes. Reputation management and communications planning are ongoing for any business or entrepreneur. Experience is a great teacher and the more that happens, the more you know. Learning from past mistakes and victories will help you better manage the future.

Above all else, in a communications crisis honesty trumps everything. In Public Relations honesty and trust are the absolute foundation of the work we do. Honesty and ethics must be at the forefront for every crisis communications expert, PR practitioner, business owner, and entrepreneur.

For More Information:
Natasha Benjamin: PR Worthy Tips from Scandal
The Abbi Agency: Everybody Loves a Scandal