Public relations professionals need a playbook for managing crises. Anything from a corporate scandal to a pandemic can arise suddenly and necessitate a swift response. And while time is of the essence during these situations, crisis communications should be clear and accurate, and also be aligned with a broader PR strategy.
The High Stakes of PR Crisis Response
PR specialists are often the first people the public hears from when a crisis occurs. The response may take the form of a press release, a social media update, or a statement to a trusted media contact.
Getting the messaging right is paramount, since mistakes are costly:
- Consumers still had much worse perceptions of United Airlines even seven months after it had made headlines with a botched PR crisis about an injured passenger.
- Only 34% of organizations are “very confident” in their crisis response plans.
- Three-quarters of companies have sought outside help to navigate a crisis, underscoring the difficulties involved.
So what is needed for an effective crisis response? It starts with anticipation and planning, and then requires effective team execution as well as adept usage of available communication channels.
First, PR professionals should identify the particular vulnerabilities of their organizations or clients, so they can perform risk management for their reputations. Toward that goal, they may create crisis management plans (CMP) that address the relevant risks, along with templates and pre-written communications that are ready to go when the most likely crises strike.
Strengthening and Expanding the Team
It’s a good idea to build out a designated crisis response team to oversee CMP implementation and updates. HR, legal, and finance personnel should also be involved in processes such as the review of press release drafts.
Prioritizing Clarity and Safety
Avoid the “no comment” route if possible and communicate in a clear and concise way, without excessive jargon. Also be cognizant of the common crisis response strategies (e.g., how to issue a proper apology, if merited) so that they can be leveraged and modified as needed. Above all, prioritize public safety and the sensitivities of any victims of the crisis in question.
Going Beyond the Press Release
Don’t just issue a statement. Be sure to amplify your response via social media, local news, radio, and other channels as necessary, so that everyone who needs to hear what you’re saying can find your response.
To learn more about how you can navigate PR crises, visit the program overview page for the online Master’s in Strategic Public Relations from the George Washington University.
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