What is PR crisis management?

Crisis management is the communications management function used to convey accurate facts and data to the general public and to specific publics during a crisis situation in order to prevent or minimize negative publicity that could adversely affect the success of the company.

What constitutes a crisis?

A crisis can be defined as any situation that may result in the loss of public trust, support and legitimacy for businesses, brands and public institutions. Without an appropriate crisis management plan in place, negative news about any organisation or individual in the public eye spreads like wildfire.

Successful crisis communications strategies are those that look to put in place a set of best practices and processes to effectively manage and contain any news that could potentially lead to a drop in levels of public trust, a financial loss or significant damage to the reputation of an organisation or individual.

Poorly handled, a crisis can lead to financial and reputation loss. Crisis management is a set of practices, actions and tools aimed at reducing the harmful effects a crisis can inflict on an organization, its stakeholders, or the industry.

When is crisis communications needed?

Crisis communications protects and reduces the impact of the various threats to individuals or to organisations and their stakeholders. Mistakes, serious errors of judgement or natural disasters cannot be foreseen. This means that every public-facing organisation or individual is vulnerable to crises.

The fundamental idea that underpins the best crisis communications strategies is simple: preparation is key. You cannot foresee when a crisis is going to occur. But you can formulate an effective crisis communications plan to deal with it when it does.

In terms of timing, the thing to remember is this: the worst possible time to develop a crisis communications plan is after the fact. Reacting to an emergency or dealing with a potentially tough reputation-damaging issue requires a calm, confident, level-headed and well-coordinated response.

Common crisis communications services

Speaking to a PR agency that’s experienced in crisis communications and management for particular industries, cases or countries is without a doubt one of the best ways in which organizations or individuals can prepare themselves for – or successfully handle – PR crises.

Some commons crisis communications activities include (but are by no means limited to):

  • vulnerability audits
  • crisis communication strategy development
  • crisis communication training and media training
  • crisis simulations
  • assistance in crisis response and management
  • media relations
  • reputation management

How can a PR agency help?

Collaborating with a crisis communications agency is one of the best ways in which organisations or individuals can prepare themselves to deal with unforeseen crises, protecting their reputation and their bottom-line.

A specialist crisis communications or reputation management agency augments your in-house team, gives you access to any necessary independent experts and helps you keep the public updated via the media, social media and all other relevant channels. It can also help  you to develop a crisis management plan, identify and pre-brief your best spokespeople, choose the correct communication channels to engage with your audience and rapidly analyse and respond to your audience’s feedback throughout the lifespan of any crisis.

The PR team is ready to develop and implement specific risk mitigation actions or comprehensive strategies at any crisis communication stage, from risk analysis and crisis communication plan development to crisis management, media relations, training of company employees in crisis communication cases, media training, involvement of independent experts, preparation of press releases, and other statements including influencer marketing and social media communication.


Prevention is key

An essential role is played by planning for worst-case scenarios. The ability to react with efficiency and calm based on a carefully prepared plan, to predict the potential escalation of a situation and to form a constructive dialogue cannot be replaced by post-factum reaction that merely aims to achieve damage control. When taken by surprise, panic and ill-considered communication occurs and this is precisely what needs avoiding.

In terms of preparation some of the best practices include:

  • Have a crisis management plan and update it regularly
  • Have a crisis management team ready
  • Conduct media trainings and crisis simulations regularly
  • Have pre-drafted crisis management messages and statements in place
  • Identify the main communication channels

How to handle a potential crisis

The crisis response is what a person or organisation does and says after a crisis has occurred. Public relations professionals play a major role in helping to create a carefully considered message for public consumption, one that ethically and properly addresses the core problem while ensuring that the organisation has the knowledge and resources to mitigate a mistake if that is the case, or to honestly improve a service or situation where this is possible.

The golden rules of crisis communications:

  • Immediate response – tell your version first to avoid rumours and interpretations
  • One voice principle – consistent and unified response within the company
  • Accuracy and truth above all
  • Take visible measures to address the problem and demonstrate accountability

Reputation repair & post-crisis phase

This stage involves identifying the negative factors and outcomes, drawing thoughtful conclusions, and drafting a further action plan to stabilise an affected reputation and improve an organisation’s public image.

Actions taken at this stage often involve short and medium term activities like publicising the measures taken in order to inform the public and the stakeholders that lessons have been learnt and firm actions were carried out to address a wrong. But long-term planning based on fresh and comprehensive risk assessments, as well as establishing new rules – or updating existing rules – to address new risk factors that could affect reputation, are also common crisis management tasks.

Having a crisis management plan in place that involves identifying potential risks and defining a set of initial actions to implement as well as clear roles and responsibilities, along with training a crisis response team before a critical situation emerges, are certainly things to consider.

What is the difference between crisis communication and crisis management?

Crisis management is the process that guides a business or an organization in case of a sudden emergency situation. It is a set of tools aimed at reducing the harmful effects a crisis can inflict on an organization, its stakeholders, or industry. Whereas crisis communication is only one, although a particularly important, part of the crisis management process and it plans and implements what a person or company says and how it publicly communicates after a crisis has occurred. Public relations professionals play a major role in this process by helping to create messages for the public that help to manage the crisis and reduce the harmful effects on the reputation of the business or individual involved in the crisis.

Can a PR crisis lead to a complete business shutdown?

The short answer to this question is unfortunately ‘Yes’. Ill-handled crisis communications can potentially lead to a drop in levels of public trust, a financial loss, or significant damage to the reputation of the company hit by the crisis. In today’s always-on 24/7 social media era, potentially damaging news travels faster than ever before and a PR crisis can lead to boycotts from both customers and business partners, creating financial instability, and thus destroying a business.

Can companies completely foresee and prevent public image crises?

Thought-out risk analysis is the foundation of any effective crisis management plan, but no such plan can guarantee the anticipation of all possible situations. A crisis management plan is a good reference tool, not a blueprint to handling any situation. Nevertheless, it provides vital support for resolving any crisis, by training individuals, identifying the chain of command, drafting possible response messages, and identifying communication channels, thus in the times of crisis, helping to respond faster, more prudently, and thus more effectively.

When is it too late to plan crisis communication?

Although early planning and preparation is the ideal scenario for a crisis situation, it is never too late to start to communicate thoughtfully and effectively. Only a well-thought-out strategy can help regain public trust, reputation, and reduce the impact of the crisis on a company or organization. Professional crisis communication agencies can provide valuable support at any stage of a crisis.


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