Communicating and Planning during a PR Crisis

Communicating and Planning during a PR Crisis

A fearful audience doesn’t listen to an organization if they don’t believe that they are being listened to.

The audience’s feelings and preconceptions have to be understood. Meetings can be held and focus groups can be conducted.

This will leave no room for guesswork and establish what the audience knows.

This will also help to measure the effectiveness of the communications of the organization in crisis and establish what the audience knows and what they need to know.

The relevance of the message that the organization sends can be understood.

Communicating Effectively During a PR crisis

The response of the organization in crisis will also be guided helpfully if it chooses to listen rather than to speak.

Given below are ways of communicating effectively during a PR crisis.

Adequate communication capacity

During a crisis, an organization is under intense pressure. It tries to repair the damage and set the situation to normal.

There should be information available that would be important for clients, employees and their families, and shareholders.

That information may not be of much importance to the media.

There has to be means of communication available that can deal with large volumes of inquiries.

There could be a toll-free number, and pages on social media platforms with all the answers.

The page could also address queries.

Choose the spokesperson

During a crisis, the spokesperson chosen should be sincere, credible, and well-informed.

The spokesperson should not be defensive and combative and take difficult questions personally.

That will create suspicion and fear among the audience.

The spokesperson should be a natural communicator and trainable too.

They should be plain spoken but able to grasp technical issues.

It is better to choose an employee as they might have the authority to answer quickly and reasonably.

Give the story a credible end

Some crisis stories never seem to go away.

Then, the organization might have to make a gesture that it has taken the crisis seriously. It might even mean firing an employee.

Every crisis story needs to be given a credible end.

Respond quickly

No organization should wait long to issue a timely apology if needed.

If a PR firm covers a mistake for an organization it should be modest enough to stay out of sight.

The overt appearance of a PR team demonstrates that an organization is more concerned about its reputation than the crisis itself.

Tell the news like it is

Bad news about a crisis should not be unrealistically covered with a positive press release.

This would not impress reporters or the audience.

There should be a frank discussion of both good news and bad.

Organizations that ‘tell it like it is’ develop credibility with shareholders, the media, and the customers alike.

Deciding on how much truth can be shared can be tricky but whatever the circumstances, the organization should tell, ‘nothing but the truth’.

It should also seem confident that a crisis can be followed by a solution.

Planning for a PR crisis

Not all crises are preventable but that cannot be an excuse for neglect.

Planning for a crisis can keep an organization out of trouble.

It can also reduce the damage when something actually goes wrong.

A crisis can be of different types. It could be technological or natural.

The tide can turn anytime and an organization can find itself at the receiving end of criticism.

A PR crisis can arise all of a sudden and on an extremely short notice.

Components of a PR crisis plan

A PR crisis plan has to be short and actionable. The two important components of the plan are a PR crisis team and resources.

The resources should include phone numbers and email addresses  of the audience that have to be contacted in a hurry.

They could be suppliers, employees, media, and advocacy groups.

Given below are ways to plan for a PR crisis.

Assemble a planning team

The first step in crisis communications planning is to organize a planning team which should have leaders from all the departments in the company.

The team should identify all types of possible crises and craft response strategies to those crises.

Scenarios have to be thought out and agreed upon beforehand. How an organization responds will affect how the media responds.

During the first intense hours of the crisis, the response sets the tone for the coverage.

A planning team should include a decision maker, media spokespeople who are well-trained, advisors, PR professionals who are experienced in crisis management and depending on the crisis, a lawyer.

The advisors could be operational and technical staff who could give accurate information on the crisis and suggest remedies.

Back-up people should also be available as people might be unavailable when a crisis occurs.

Define a crisis

The planning team should define what can be called a crisis for an organization.

There should be  a list of possible incidents that can damage an organization and its reputation.

For instance, possible instances of a crisis could be an accident at the warehouse or rumors of bankruptcy.

Each possible crisis should be ranked according to probability.

The seriousness of high probability incidents should also be ranked. Planning, training, and prevention should also be planned accordingly.

Assess the reputation of the organization

A reputation audit can be conducted.

A reputation audit will analyze the mentions of an organization over a specific period and also provide answers to questions like “How do the company’s customers feel about it?’

A reputation audit will show the reputation of an organization is with its employees, investors, and customers.

Are the customers supportive?

Will they give the organization the benefit of doubt during a crisis? How is the organization’s relationship with the media? An audit will also give important information for day-to-day PR management.

Test the crisis plan

Once the team has been assembled and the potential crises have been identified, it is essential to test the team and the plan.

A mock crisis can be set up and the team can be challenged to deal with it in real time. This is important as it would help to develop the skills of the team and identify weaknesses in the plan.


Ronn Torossian is the Founder & Chairman of 5W Public Relations, one of the largest independently-owned PR firms in the United States.

With over 20 years of experience crafting and executing powerful narratives, Torossian is one of America’s most prolific and well-respected Public Relations professionals.