Get ready now: 3 crisis PR tips

Are you prepared for a PR calamity? Here are tested ways to make sure you stay ahead of any firestorm.

Most communicators believe they’re ready for a crisis, but many work with outdated crisis plans that don’t facilitate the real-time response required in the split-second world of social media.

Here are three ways to bring your crisis preparedness up to speed:

1. Name and train your crisis team now. “Don’t show up thinking you’re ready for a crisis,” says Michael Neuwirth, senior PR director at Dannon. “Just like running a marathon, you need to train yourself and your team.”

That begins with identifying the crisis team. Start by pulling together a contact list of the essential people who should be involved in any crisis response.

The most important will be your team leader.

“Too often, the role of the crisis manager is not properly defined,” Neuwirth says. “That’s one way things fall through the cracks in terms of documenting events and ensuring follow-up, involving the right people and following the protocol of the crisis management plan.”

He also advises reviewing the crisis management plan with company leaders at least once a year, as well as conducting a crisis simulation least once every two years or whenever a new member joins the management team.

2. Prep “golden hour” statements now. “Scenario planning for every possibility isn’t possible or effective,” Neuwirth says, “but mapping out key risk areas and formulating statements you could use during the golden hour of response time is absolutely essential.”

To map out key risk areas, begin with basic questions such as, “What could mostly likely go wrong, and who would have an interest in that unfortunate incident?”

The list of interested parties will probably include customers, suppliers, regulators, NGOs, investors and other business stakeholders.

To map out the issues, write down all the things you think could go wrong for your business.

“Then position each on a matrix based on its likelihood and the significance of the impact for each,” Neuwirth says. “Pretty quickly, you’ll see the top issues that need talking points.”

3. Develop allies now. Identifying partners who can assist you in crunch time is not a luxury; it’s a requirement for crisis planning.

“When a crisis calls into question the credibility of your organization, the best sources of defense are your allies who know and trust you for the quality and integrity of your business,” Neuwirth says.

This could be an academic who studies topics related to your business, an NGO or a not-for-profit that you support, a trade association, key customers who rely on you, a regulator who oversees your industry or any other stakeholder.

“These business relationships require ongoing and open communication so that the allies know not only what your business does, but also your values, so they can speak with authority and credibility on your behalf,” Neuwirth says.

His sole caveat: “These relationships require time and investment,” he says. “They don’t happen overnight, so begin to build them now.”

Brian Pittman is a Ragan Communications consultant and webinar manager for PR Daily’s PR University. Michael Neuwirth, senior PR director at Dannon Co., and Lorna Bush, SVP at Fineman PR, shared additional tips in PR University’s webinar, “Stop Disaster ASAP: New Crisis Communications Lessons for the Mobile Era.”

This article was originally published on PR Daily in October 2016.

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