Back to Basics: Preparing for a Crisis

Each and every crisis is unique and how you respond will depend on the type of situation. In all crises, though, there are certain procedures you should follow to maintain a level of calm and control, ensure information flow and successfully manage the crises for your organization, client or company. You want to be organized and prepared in times of crisis so that you are seen as a resource to provide timely and accurate updates for your members, consumers and the media. Here are a few basic thoughts of how to prepare for and handle a PR crisis.

ASSESS IF THE SITUATION IS A CRISIS FOR YOUR PARTICULAR ORGANIZATION – Determining the impact on your organization will guide your next steps. Certain incidents may be worth monitoring and your organization would serve only as a source of credible information, while another incident might make your organization the public focus and put you in the spotlight. It is important not to insert your organization into a potentially negative situation if it doesn’t impact you and the press has not involved you yet.

KEEP YOUR FACTS STRAIGHT – Identify credible sources of information and base your decisions and messaging on facts. These sources are generally going to be a local, state or federal government agency. Do not rely on news media as a final source of information. Tell the truth.

DETERMINE WHO NEEDS TO KNOW AND WHAT THEY NEED TO KNOW – Based on the level of a crisis, decide how to inform your various audiences. Questions to be answered:

1) Share information about the event just among staff internally?
2) Elevate the information to include the head of your organization but still for internal purposes only?
3) Make certain aspects of information available to just members/customers?
4) Make broader information available to government officials, the public and media?

ESTABLISH DELIVERY METHODS – Based on the particular crisis, it is important to determine how you will communicate with key constituencies. When you do communicate, let those core constituencies know you are monitoring the situation and will provide regular updates and guidance.

Below are some examples:

  • Will information be included in a regularly scheduled email, conference call, newsletter, etc.?
  • Does the situation warrant an immediate or as-it-happens update?
  • Should you address the situation on social media?
  • Should the organization issue a statement or press release?
    • Determine if it requires a public statement and who the spokesperson will be, i.e. the spokesperson for the Association, Bureau, Company, etc or does it rise to the CEO level?
    • Timing of a public statement is crucial. Know when to get in front of a situation and when NOT to insert your organization, client or company into an unfolding situation.

BE COORDINATED – It is important to coordinate messaging with others who are involved (government or private sector) so that your organization and the public do not receive mixed signals or conflicting information. This can be difficult in a crisis situation, but it is necessary to be effective. It is vital to communicate only the facts as you know them and not to offer conjecture or personal narratives. Set the right tone from the outset. Empathy, concern and calm leadership are important in times of crises.

Every crisis is different, but the basic thought starters above will help you answer some key questions to guide your actions and decide what is best for your organization and help you weather a potential PR storm. Being prepared in advance and following these concepts can help prevent a one-day news story from becoming a five-day (or longer) news story.