Ah yes, the PR crisis. The bane (or thrill?) of every communications professional’s career.

Facing a PR crisis can be quite a daunting time, especially when you don’t know what to expect. Often, the most important question you will face is how to react appropriately to contain a crisis. Do you go on a full-blown counter-offensive or keep your head down and assume that whatever’s going on will blow over imminently?

Judgement is crucial here: when does an issue become a communication crisis and what should you do about it?

Evaluate a potential PR crisis by asking yourself some quick questions:

  1. Can we keep the crisis to a minimum if we take no action at all?
  2. Can it be contained internally?
  3. Will it affect reputation and profits?
  4. Is it out in the public domain already?
  5. Could it undermine the day-to-day performance or value of the company?

If the answer is “yes” to points 1 or 2, it’s an issue to be managed carefully by the communications team to ensure it doesn’t become a crisis. If the answer is “yes” to 3, 4, or 5 – it’s a crisis and time to start putting on your armour. Speed and scale can turn a crisis public faster than you can blink.

Under pressure, decision making has to be fast AND good, which is undoubtedly not easy. Be mindful not to react in these ways:

Burying your head in the sand

The biggest mistake you can make is to assume that what has been identified as a crisis will simply blow over by itself, especially if the initial outlook seems calm. Think about it like a tsunami tide – it flows out to sea before it comes back in with a vengeance.

In most cases, proactivity is key – few will defend you if you don’t put your side of the story across. Hostile coverage is inevitable when a PR crisis happens, and social media will only serve to further escalate any hostility stakeholders (and the general public) have towards your company.

Communicating your story early in an honest and transparent (as far as possible) way is the best way to win support. The aim is to ensure that you emerge from the crisis with  your reputation intact, and shake off the damaging effects faster.

The attack mode 

Launching a full blown attack and badmouthing the stakeholder, company, or even the media responsible for the potential reputation meltdown might seem like the easiest option. But this only serves to reflect badly on both you and the company you represent. Conducting yourself calmly and professionally ensures you keep your dignity and reputation as intact as possible.

PR jargon

Honest and simple communication is key. Do not try to confuse the media and stakeholders with jargon and acronyms which you think might make you appear more knowledgeable.  Keep your messages and language as human as possible, and more importantly, keep it consistent. This will reassure your investors, employees and other stakeholders that you are fully aware of the crisis, understand the severity of it, and are prepared to handle your company in a professional way.

If a crisis is well handled, it can prove to be an opportunity to demonstrate the company’s resilience, quick response and transparency. It also provides a platform to potentially build an even stronger reputation than before. Keep calm, breathe and keeps these tips in mind and you should be able to get through a crisis just fine.

When a PR crisis looms, it can be quite a scary and spooky time for all. Here are a few pointers of what not to do when you find yourself in that situation.

The zombie – being slow off the mark
As soon as you are made aware of a potential crisis, begin planning straight away. There’s no use waiting until it’s public or you’ll be on the back foot. Every crisis is different so it is important to give yourself enough time to devise the best possible strategy. Are you in crisis mode?

1. Is the effect minimal if no action were taken?
2. Can it be contained internally?
3. Will it affect reputation and profits?
4. Is it out in the media already?
5. Could it undermine day-to-day performance or value of the company?

If it’s yes to 3, 4, or 5 – it’s a crisis!

The bat – hiding in the dark
Don’t just hide thinking it will all go away, in a lot of cases this will make it worse. Keeping an ear to the ground and monitoring the media is essential. Take a moment to analyse the situation, look at your options, think of all possible action you could take – and the repercussions of each for your stakeholders – and devise a plan of action. Tell it all, tell it fast and tell it now is the holy mantra against all evil crisis matters.

The gravediggers – digging yourself a hole with the media
Don’t treat the media like an enemy by telling them you won’t talk to them again. Bad mouthing them in public is also a bad idea. In the short term you get an angry reporter, in the long term you’ll have jeopardised a potentially important relationship. Continue to conduct yourself in a calm and professional way putting aside your emotional reaction to the situation. This way you are more likely to better manage the situation.

The hocus pocus – speaking a language no-one understands
React in plain English, using jargon and acronyms will just confuse people further. Ensure you are prepared with agreed language and messages to go out with, keeping your communications succinct and consistent. Effectively handled, this will reassures investors, employees and other stakeholders that the situation is in hand.

This post was written by Charlotte.

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