How to stay calm during a PR crisis

You knew a crisis would one day affect your company or client. Don’t panic. Follow these 10 steps.

You just checked your voicemail and a reporter has a big story about your company or client. He wants you to call back immediately because this is big news. He needs a comment and is counting the minutes to your call.

Your pulse is still racing. You have reviewed your crisis communications plan, but your brain feels like you just mainlined three pots of coffee. Part of you wants to call back with your prepared statement while another side wants to hide. So what do you do? How do you get yourself under control when the moment arrives?

Here are 10 steps:

1. Take a breath

Close your eyes and take a deep breath. Then another. Then another. Now open your eyes and focus on the task at hand.

2. Rely on your preparation

You knew a crisis would strike one day You have a folder filled with everything from statements and talking points to designated spokespeople and social media posts. Even if the specific crisis was unexpected you still have your crisis communications plan (or at least you should).

3. Remember your research

Since you are a well-rounded communications executive you have studied other crises in the news. You’ve seen companies turn a crisis into a win. Now it’s your turn.

4. Have perspective

Don’t make your interactions with the media personal. It’s their job to dig and ask questions. Step back and look at the problem from their point of view. Try looking at it from the view of the public as well. How will this news be presented and digested? Use these perspectives when considering the answers to each question.

5. Share the load

Don’t think you have to do it yourself. In fact, there are many staff members who need to know about this crisis ASAP. Your colleagues are also full of information that may help. Talk things through and bounce ideas around quickly if you are stuck.

6. Slow down

Don’t add to the crisis by making foolish mistakes. If you are too quick to respond, you may overlook an approval you need or a question that should be asked internally.

7. Stay on track

Remain focused and don’t let little fires steer you away from the main objective.

8. Trust in your skills

You were hired for a reason. Now is not the time to second-guess your abilities. At the very least you will learn from every crisis you handle.

9. Visualize success

Imagine the end of the crisis. What do you want the headlines to say? Now identify the steps to get there.

10. Be open to change

Embrace flexibility in your crisis plan, otherwise you’ll stress yourself out trying to adhere to it when you should search for other tactics. A dialogue can shift focus easily as new facts are brought to light. While you want to stay on message, you must be open to the evolution of a crisis.

Brian Adams consults with nonprofits, including Komera Project, regarding communications strategy. Brian was previously senior director of communications at United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley and the head of media and community relations for the MSPCA-Angell. A version of this story first appeared on the author’s blog.

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