4 top tips for managing a PR crisis

By a senior account director at Atmosphere Communications

A reputation is what you emerge with after enduring a crisis, which is another way of saying that out of a problem arises a peril, but also an opportunity. How you manage the event or circumstances will determine if your organisation or client will emerge with its reputation intact rather than in tatters. It is also an opportunity to demonstrate how you react to difficult circumstances. Here are our four top tips when dealing with a crisis:

By a senior account director at Atmosphere Communications
By a senior account director at Atmosphere Communications
  • Stop the leaks. The first thing that happens in any crisis is that people have the urge to talk about it. Rumours and bits of information tend to spread like wildfire through an organisation very quickly and out the front door.

Ensure that everyone involved understands that a ‘situation’ has occurred, that they are key to resolving the problem and that all communication emanating from the organisation needs to be managed.

If the media are involved, remember that if you don’t feed them some information (and frequent updates) they will go elsewhere to get it. This is where ‘plugging the leaks’ is essential.

  • Communicate the facts. You won’t be able to prevent leaks unless you act fast to inform your own employees about what is going on. Make this your first act: let them know what has happened and what is being done to resolve the matter.

Bear in mind that normal communications might not be working. Have a plan in place so the decision-maker (you or someone else) is able to talk to everyone quickly and without the delay of a filter. Think ‘out of the box’ and consider platforms like a Whatsapp group. Above all, let staff know how communications will work during a crisis so that they can be part of the solution.

Prepare a holding statement advising the outside world that you are aware of the crisis, that you are working to resolve the issue and that you will communicate with everyone as soon as more news becomes available. Communicate directly with clients and other stakeholders in your business. You need to buy time, and business continuity is your main objective.

  • Investigate. You won’t have anything to communicate if you don’t know what’s going on. But don’t feel rushed to feed the media and social media cycles for the sake of an update. While you are finding out the facts, rely on your holding statement.

Surround yourself with a small team of rational and capable people, and include those with operational authority. Identify the crisis team beforehand as part of your business recovery process, so everyone knows his or her roles. Keep procedures simple and easy to follow. No-one has the time or inclination to read a manual when chaos is erupting all around them.

  • Polish. Once the dust has settled and you’ve had time to assess the damage, you need to start work on repairing any damage to your reputation. If you’ve communicated with everyone during the crisis, this is an opportunity to present stability and responsiveness.

Consult with staff and clients to get their feedback, and thank them for their patience. Demonstrate your concern for their needs – remember, a crisis impacts them as much as it impacts you.

At every crisis in one’s life, it is absolute salvation to have some sympathetic friend to whom you can think aloud without restraint or misgiving.” – Woodrow Wilson