How to Manage a Public Relations Crisis

It’s a privilege to be a trusted resource for clients in crisis. The issues vary—from an executive being on the receiving end of a tasteless email, to news investigations and lawsuits, to threats of boycotts and employee misconduct—but the anxieties and risks often are the same.

For businesses and non-profits in crisis, it is critical to be prompt, organized and proactive. Here are a few pointers from the Intesa crisis communications team:

Public Relations and Crisis Communications

  1. Acknowledge the situation: the words “no comment” do you no favors. Even if you are not prepared to officially respond to the issue, you should acknowledge it, and assure the media and other stakeholders that you are taking the situation seriously and will get back to them promptly (then, actually do that).
  2. Form a Crisis Response team:  for small- to medium-sized companies and non-profits, this is an informal group of trusted advisors from your company, communications staff and legal team.
  3. Choose one point of contact: some of the most difficult situations to navigate during a crisis are products of rogue emails and verbal responses to the press from employees who do not accurately represent your position nor understand the situation and its wider implications. To keep this unofficial chatter from turning you into chum, you should designate and enforce a one-point-of-contact rule. Many times this is the company spokesperson, or in a smaller company, a high-ranking executive or company president.
  4. Share the facts: investigate all relevant details and share them with your crisis response team. Hiding facts from your public relations or legal counsel may result in your team acting on incorrect information, or worse, your spokesperson misleading the public. Your reputation is on the line here, not only with the public, but also with the employees helping you navigate a difficult path. Treat them respectfully by being honest.
  5. Determine your stakeholders: it is not just the media who matter. Make a list of the peers, employees, board members, clients, donors, and community partners who will care about and/or be affected by the situation.
  6. Craft key messages, letters and statements: those internal and external stakeholders should not learn about your situation from media reports. Working with your communications team, customize brief, truthful and informative emails, letters, and social media posts that keep your stakeholders in loop as you navigate the crisis.
  7. Listen!  Monitor public sentiment through social and traditional media, and ask your stakeholders for feedback. These various audiences will let you know how your reputation management efforts are going, and what tweaks and acknowledgments you should make along the way.

Remember, this too shall pass. And if handled promptly, respectfully and without losing sight of the bigger picture, a communications crisis just might usher in an opportunity to put your true company values on display.

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