The PR Playbook: 5 Steps to Successful Crisis Management

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The concept of a crisis is not new, but how organizations can respond to crisis has evolved with the times. Today, professionals on the front-line in the defense against crises are those in public relations. PR professionals have a wide range of tools and techniques at their disposal to combat a crisis, from social media to press releases, media appearances and a lot in between.

However, not all crisis management is created equal, and crises remain a relatively common occurrence across businesses. According to data compiled by McKinsey & Company, the number of headlines which included the word “crisis” and the name of a Forbes top 100 company — and thus indicates corporate reputation risk — increased from an average of 130 headlines from 1990 to 1999 up to 1,030 headlines from 2010 to 2016.

Enterprises are dealing with crises on a more frequent basis, and the need for successful crisis management is high. Check out our infographic for digestible tips for crisis management, or read on to learn more.

Steps to successful crisis management

There are five broad steps behind a successful crisis management plan that can be employed by a public relations professional. Those steps are:

  1. Identify the issue
  2. Assess its impact
  3. Set a response goal
  4. Assemble the stakeholders
  5. Execute the plan

These tips were broadly discussed by Larry Parnell, Associate Professor and Program Director at the George Washington University, in a webinar on the subject of crisis communications and issues management. Parnell outlined the importance of these stages for public relations. For starters, professionals must decide whether the problem is an “issue” or a “crisis.” Issues, in this instance, refer to concerns that could turn into a crisis. Identified early, companies can take steps to remove issues and avoid full-blown crises.

But that doesn’t always happen. Once a crisis does arise — defined by Parnell as an issue that has gotten out of hand or moved from an internal concern to an external one — public relations professionals can begin to implement their resolution strategy.

As noted above, this includes identifying the crisis and determining its impact. Who does it affect? Is the public aware? Which vendors and partners will be affected? Once that is known, those stakeholders should be notified of the program and a response goal should be determined: What is the desired outcome of the crisis management? Finally, once stakeholders can review and agree on the course of action, that plan can be executed.

The George Washington University online Master’s in Strategic Public Relations covers topics like this and much more in the world of public relations. Connect with an enrollment advisor to learn more about the program.


Online Master’s in Strategic Public Relations by The George Washington University

Crisis Communications and Issues Management by The George Washington University

Are you prepared for a corporate crisis? By McKinsey & Company

Infographic: 5 Steps to Successful Crisis Management

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