A crisis timeline: PR lessons from the Cincinnati Zoo

Moral outrage at an incident involving your organization or your client’s industry can hamper your job performance. Here’s how to prepare yourself when the media storm heads your way.

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People are outraged that the child was seemingly unattended—and that the gorilla was shot and killed. Many are infuriated that people have differing opinions on the matter.

It was an unfortunate incident, but what’s fascinating to me is that nearly a week later, the story continues to trend on social media. People clamor for new information and angles to consume and regurgitate.

The trajectory of stories like these is as predictable as my grandma’s Sunday dinner. It hasn’t changed in many years—and isn’t likely to. That’s extremely helpful for PR pros and crisis communicators, because we can get ahead of stories when they affect us, inserting clients and organizations’ experts into stories at the ideal time.

Here’s what the Cincinnati Zoo’s crisis can teach PR pros about the life cycle of a story.

The crisis life cycle: Day by day

First, news broke. Only the facts were shared. Media outlets rushed to be the first to report a bare-bones account and the journalism-school “Five Ws.”

It’s at this stage that if there’s a video, however crude (which there was in this instance), news outlets instantly plays it on a loop, fueling more headlines and social media chatter.

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