The golden rules of PR crisis management

Marta
November 4, 2019 ・ 12 min read

PR crisis. In an ideal world, a well-managed company wouldn’t have to worry about a PR crisis. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world. The question is not if a crisis will strike, but when will it happen. And once crisis occurs, you should have a set of PR crisis management rules in place.

The rules of PR crisis management are general rules that will help organisation of any size manage their presence during a crisis situation.

To make the complicated process a bit more digestible, we divided the crisis communications and management rules into three steps:

  1. Pre-crisis management
  2. Crisis management
  3. Post-crisis management

That way, you will know how to act along every step of the way.

Without further ado, here are the golden rules for public relations crisis management!

What is PR crisis management?

Crisis management is the process of preparing an organisation for major event that threatens the organisation, its, reputation, stakeholders, or general public.

Public relations professionals play a vital part in crisis communication.

PR department is responsible for external and internal communication. During a crisis the main goal of a PR department would be to inform all interested parties about the current situation, potential risks, and planned actions. A well-prepared crisis communication plan should contain the first type of message that will be send out to the world.

This generic message should restore trust in your organization and give you some time to investigate the issue at hand.

Public relations and marketing team is the first line of defence for your company. Whether you leave the crisis unscathed depends largely on how well you handle PR crisis management.

When should you react to PR crises?

To successfully manage PR crises, you need to know when and how to react.

Let’s deal with “when” first.

Not every negative comment constitutes a public relations crisis that could damage your brand reputation and requires your CEO involvement.

You can implement a triage technique to assess the severity of the potential crisis. Assessing the problem early will help you manage the crisis and not waste any resources on unnecessary actions.

You have to give any situation that you consider threatening the right colour: green, orange, or red.

Green is for the situations that don’t require any immediate actions from your organization. For example, when one of your competitors is facing a crisis, that doesn’t necessarily affect your business.

There is a chance though that the crisis will affect your business in some way. Monitor the situation closely and send in your crisis response team when needed.

Take a closer look at Google search results. If you see you company trending in the media, the tag can change from green to orange.

Orange PR crisis tag is for situations that could possibly harm your business and destroy your consumers trust in your brand. Think about one negative review out of hundreds positive comments. You should keep an eye on it, but don’t summon your PR crisis management and social media team just yet.

Red is when you have to act quickly and decisively. Your business reputation and revenue is in an imminent danger and you have to call in your PR crisis response team. Code red includes situations that could damage your brand reputation or disturb supply chains. These types of crises could potentially negatively affect the bottom line of your business.

The harshest types of crises usually include an executive scandal or, unfortunately, some form of sexual harassment. You want to tackle this type of PR issues quickly. Preferably, before your audience and the press get a sniff of a scandal.

Remember that situation can escalate quickly and go from code green to orange or even red in a couple of hours. That’s why it’s important to constantly monitor the situation.

Best practices in PR crisis management

There’s bad news and there’s good news.

The bad news is, a PR crisis will hit your organization someday.

The good news is, you can prepare crisis communications plan for your business and minimize the damage.

You actively implement crisis management strategies that will help you contain PR crises. Moreover, having a robust PR crisis management strategy in place will ensure your employees know exactly what to do.

Here’s what you have to take into account while preparing your crisis communications plan!

Monitor news cycle around your brand

We live in a world that’s always online. The chances are, the crisis will begin online on communication channels that’s not owned by you. That’s a worst-case scenario, because your audience will spot the crisis before your PR crisis team.

An unnoticed crises can easily escalate and affect the bottom line of your business.

To prevent an escalation of an online crisis, you have to be aware of what people say about your company or product.

The proliferation of online channels makes it impossible to track all online mentions regarding your brand online.

A simple solution is a media monitoring tool.

A media monitoring tool, for example, Brand24, gathers publicly available online mentions containing your predefined keyword.

Prevent PR crisis and track online mentions about your brand! Start a 14-day trial(no credit card required).

Brand24 offers much more than just a collection of online posts. The tool will also analyse the mentions. You can tag them according to your needs, so you get the most important information analysed.

From a PR crisis management perspective, which features of a media monitoring tool are the most relevant?

Let’s go through the list one by one!

Sentiment analysis and the volume of mentions

A social listening tool will automatically assign a sentiment to the collected online mentions.

You will see whether the talk about your brand is positive, negative, or neutral.

To get the most out of media monitoring and sentiment analysis, combine the metric with the volume of mentions.

The volume of mentions is the total number of mentions within a defined timeframe.

A spike in the number of mentions and prevailing negative sentiment is an indicator of a PR crisis in the making. Monitor the metrics closely to react before the press spot your problems.

On the other hand, a spike of positively marked mentions means you’re doing a great job!

Filters

If you’re monitoring mentions around a large company or popular product, you’ll receive a ton of mentions.

They all might be relevant to your project, but you might need to examine only some part of the online chatter.

To help you with that task, we develop a handful of filters you can use in your project.

Here’s what you can find in the dashboard:

  • filter by country
  • filter by interactions
  • filter by the number of visits
  • filter by domain
  • filter by public profile
  • filter by date
  • filter by sentiment

Which filters are useful when it comes to the PR crisis management?

For sure, you have to take into account the number and type of interactions and the number of visits.

This will help you assess the pace in which the news spreads online and whether the content is getting traction with other users.

The domain filter will help you pinpoint the earned channels where your company is popular. It doesn’t necessarily mean you should invest in a profile on the platform, but you should monitor where the conversation is headed.

Filtering by public profiles can help you spot any influential public profiles talking about the company you’re interested in.

Their posts tend to attract high levels of attention, so it’s vital to know whether some of them are posting about your brand.

Notifications

To be able to prevent a PR crisis from spreading, you have to be aware of it.

That’s why you need a robust notifications system. Brand24’s notification system allows you to receive all mentions or already filtered ones.

In Brand24, we offer three types of notifications that will help you manage a PR crisis:

  1. Slack notifications. That’s my personal favourite. Every time there’s a new mention in the dashboard, you’ll receive a Slack notification. That way, you can stay up to date all the time.
  2. Email notifications. If you don’t have access to Slack, you can opt for email notifications. You can receive real-time, hourly, every six hours, every 12 hours, daily, weekly, or monthly notifications.
  3. In-app notifications. Brand24 offers app both for iOS and Android. You can see all the mentions from your projects right on your phone.

Always be prepared

You might think that your product is superb and your organization works smoothly. That doesn’t mean you’re immune to crisis.

Nowadays, the question is not if a PR crisis hits you, but rather when will it happen.

That’s why you should have a crisis response plan in place. No matter when a PR crisis occurs, every member from all strategic departments within your company will know how to react and what to do.

The crisis communications plan could also help new employees that join your company during a PR crisis. The new hires will immediately know how to act and what’s the company strategy in the time of crisis.

Classify the problems and don’t overreact

Not every negative remark about a brand constitutes a PR crisis. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t respond to negative statements.

Just don’t involve your CEO in a response to a negative Google review.

Think about the impact of the crisis on the overall performance and reputation of your company.

Some problems will go away on their own. Reacting to negative message can give traction and focus your audience on a problem.

Sometimes, when it comes to reputation management, doing nothing is the best possible option.

React swiftly

Once you know you’re dealing with a PR crisis situation, you have to act fast.

Time is of the essence.

The sooner you address the issue, the greater the chance you’ll be able to control the narrative and minimise the damage.

People expect a response with no time. There won’t be time to craft some well-thought reply.

That’s why you should prepare some generic answers that you can publish right away or twitch just a bit.

Think about the channels that will work for your company. You can publish a statement on your company’s Facebook page, write an article or blog post, or record a video.

Find a communication channel that works for your customers and other stakeholders.

The goal is to give an impression you have the situation under control. There will be time for more detailed explanations later in the process.

Identify the first response unit

You need to train your employees so they know what to do and how to act.

It’s vital to point to the right employees and clearly define their responsibilities. The best team will be clueless if they don’t know who should perform certain tasks.

Usually the first response unit is your customer service or social media team.

Customer service has the privilege of talking directly to your customers. They can spot any PR issues before they reach wider audience, for example, the press.

A potentially viral negative opinion can appear on one of the social media channels. If the threatening mention is picked up by one of your communication specialist, there is still time to protect your organization reputation.

If the crises escalate, you need a holistic team you can trust. You should include different members of your organization, including:

  • a CEO
  • person with legal knowledge
  • person responsible for communication with the media
  • person responsible for communication with other stakeholders
  • person responsible for communication with customers
  • someone with technological knowledge

The team will work on the message you want to send out, manage press releases, and try not to loose trust of your customers.

This will ensure that your crisis communication will run smoothly and everyone will be at the right place at the right time.

Evaluate the crisis situation

The trained personnel should assess the PR crisis situation and act accordingly.

Every PR crisis requires different approach and reaction.

That’s why the first action of a PR crisis response team should be damage assessment and control.

Depending on the size and possible implications of a PR crisis, the team should choose an appropriate response.

After the team decides what to do, they should start counteracting the effects of a crisis.

Prepare the final plan of action

You have your holding statements that should buy you some time. Now, it’s time to prepare the final plan of action.

Your response will depend on your industry. There are, however, some general rules you should obey.

For starters, be honest. Of course, you want to minimise the damage, but denying the crisis, shifting blame, or omitting the details will only worsen the crisis.

Owning your mistakes will show that you’re a mature organisation ready to repair the damage done.

Cooperate with influencers

Once your brand, product, or service is under fire, you should look for people who can vouch for it.

That’s why you should take a look at influencers and top public profiles who could endorse your brand during and after the crisis.

The key to a successful influencer campaign is to choose the right person to work with. The most suited influencers are probably already talking about your brand.

A media monitoring tool will help you find the best influencers to help you deal with a PR crisis.

Once you log into your project, go to the Analysis tab. There, you can find two tables – the most popular public profiles and most active public profiles.

the list of influencers you can work with to handle a PR crisis

Of course, you still have to vet the names. Examine what type of content do they post, how the engagement looks like under their posts, and on which social media platforms thety are active. Based on the analysis, choose the right influencer to endorse your brand.

PR crisis analysis

The final step is equally important as the previous ones. Remember that you can learn a lot from all your mistakes.

That’s why it’s so important to analyse the PR crisis management plan.

What was done right? Which parts failed? What can you improve?

That’s the time to evaluate the performance of your crisis response team. Do the members need any additional training? Should you change the roles within the team? Add new members?

Take a look at the response to the PR messages you’ve send out. Could you improve them in any way? Use different distribution channels? Change the tone? The wording?

Assessing the PR crisis management will give you necessary insights into the PR crisis management strategy.

PR crisis management tools

Once you know what to do before, during, and after crisis, you may want to know which tools could possibly help you handle the situation.

Besides a media monitoring tool, which we mentioned earlier, you should make some research and have a PR crisis management tools stack in place.

Firstly, you need a tool to communicate easily with your employees. I recommend Slack, as it allows to make calls, create dedicated channels, and share documents in a safe environment.

As you never know when a crisis will hit, you should have available others ways of communicating with your PR crisis response team. Have the phone numbers and emails stored in a separate file. Make sure to update the information regularly.

How to prevent a PR crisis?

Knowing all the facts mentioned above, you probably have one question – can you avoid a PR crisis all together?

Unfortunately, you can’t. You are dependent on others – your suppliers, vendors, employees, or other circumstances you can’t predict.

However, you can always prepare to a PR crisis. It’s not an easy task, as you never know what might hit you and how long the crisis will take.

When it comes to handling a PR crisis, you should always expect the unexpected.

How to handle crisis communications?

A PR crisis is not the end of the world. The key is to be prepared. Start with listening to the online chatter about your brand and preparing a PR crisis management plan.

Once a crisis hits, you will know what to do. Some crises you can’t prevent, but surely you can minimise the damage.

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