Hey PR, are you prepared for the “C” word?

It’s one of the most dreaded words in PR—the “C” word. (Crisis… we’re talking about crisis.) It’s been described as “a PR nightmare” and is regularly referred to in ways like, “I would hate to be (insert company name here)’s PR person.” But crisis doesn’t have to end up being a disaster—not if you’re prepared for it.

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Crisis communication is defined as “a sub-specialty of the public relations profession that is designed to protect and defend an individual, company, or organization facing a public challenge to its reputation.”

First, let’s focus on that last part—“a public challenge to its reputation.” There are countless situations that fall into this category, and we’ve seen them all over the place. The first one that comes to most people’s minds is the BP oil spill. This was a crisis of epic proportions, but not all crises get the attention this one did. A crisis can also be anything from an angry customer’s tweet gaining traction, to a private lawsuit from an employee.

Strategic messaging is arguably the most important skill a public relations professional will use in a crisis

Ensuring your team is controlling the message and how it’s being portrayed by the public is crucial. The goal is to respond early to a crisis—even if you aren’t sure how you’re going to handle it yet.

Acknowledging there’s a problem is step one. A simple, initial statement letting the public know the situation is being taken care of is sometimes enough. For example:

“We are aware of the problem, and we are doing everything in our power to fix it.”

How easy is that? Obviously, that statement would be Plan B after a more comprehensive statement, given we know more about the crisis and our plan. Nonetheless, having a skeleton statement that is easily modifiable will save you precious time during a crisis.

You should also be strategic with your social media messaging during a crisis—if the situation is big enough to address on social media, that is. In cases involving franchises, smaller and local crises, you may not need the support of the corporate social account.

Any PR firm worth its salt will have someone monitoring social media during a crisis

Your social media monitor should always be ready to respond to mentions and comments about your client. Again, having a simple statement prepared ahead of time can be hugely helpful when responding to followers and fans. The goal is to be as transparent as possible to establish trust between you and your client’s customers. In other words, don’t be shady!

You’ll need to be strategic when tackling the media, as well

Expect your phone to be blowing up with calls from reporters if your name is on a press release or any other materials related to a crisis. Be sure to stick to the talking points and statements that have been approved by your client. If a reporter asks about something you aren’t sure about, tell them you are looking into it and will alert them when there are developments. Never say, “I don’t know about that.” This will come off as confused and disorganized.

No comment” is a phrase that you should also avoid at all costs. You may as well plead guilty, because that’s exactly how it is most often interpreted by the media and the public.

Strategic messaging is a cornerstone of public relations. If you do this well, you’ll be a crisis-handling queen (or king).

A version of this post originally appeared on the Snackbox blog; reprinted with permission.


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Jamie Hooker

Jamie Hooker

Jamie Hooker is an Assistant Account Executive at Snackbox’s Austin, Tex. HQ.


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