10 Steps to Managing Crisis Communications

Whenever you’re working with a brand, there is always the danger of a PR crisis. In fact, a big part of a PR pro’s job is managing crisis communications through multiple channels, including social media. In s world where digital communications can be sent at the drop of a hat, it’s important to have a process in place and know how and when to communicate during crisis. In this article, we’ll give you the toolkit you need to manage your crisis communications more effectively.

So what is a PR crisis? Let’s say you get 15 internal emails about one Google alert, Is that a crisis?
A real PR crisis is a negative story about your brand that has gained momentum, has reached a critical stage and threatens the reputation of your brand/business. Out of great adversity comes great opportunity. This is your challenge, should you choose to accept it: take control and be superhero you know you are!

Step 1: Inhale, Exhale, Repeat.
You team is depending on you, and we make better decisions when we’re calm and we can keep our team calm. Don’t panic. You’re in charge and you have a stick to the plan. Stick to it before you call in backup. Easy, now: Inhale, Exhale, Repeat.

Step 2: Circle the Wagons and Sound the Alarm.
Before responding to anyone, take a few minutes to:
– Notify all customer-facing employees (other PR team members, the social media team, customer service, etc.) of the situation.
– Brief them on what happened, the steps you will follow to react to the issue, and initial instructions on how and if they should communicate externally.
– Wait to respond to any social updates until there is a clear plan of action and message to be presented.

Bonus tip: Ask each of these folks to track the crisis on their individual channels and kepp you informed of any new developments.

Step 3: Investigate What Happened
Now that you’re calm and everyone’s informed, you need to get the full story. It is important to ask these 4 questions to define the crisis at hand:
– What happened?
– What does the public think happened?
– How has the public reacted?
– What channels need immediate attention?
* Avoid knee jerk reactions: investigate/

Step 4: Understand the Business Impacts.
Before you react, it’s important to know how your decisions will impact the business, revenue and your reputation. This step will be very important as you begin to make decisions on messenging and your overall corporate stance on the crisis.

Step 5: Listen up!
In crisis communications, the most important tool at your disposal is reliable data that comes from good monitoring. Use your PR and social media monitoring tools to check the pulse on the reaction of the media and your community.
– How big is the issue?
– Are there hundreds of people talking about this incident, or only a few?
– What is the overall sentiment?
– Are people supporting you?
– Is the media reacting?
– Have any stories been published?

Step 6: Decide on Corporate Position and Messaging.
Armed with the full story, an understanding of the business impact, and a complete picture of the reaction so far, you will have a clear idea of the position your company should take.

Step 7: Make decisions on Channels of Distribution
Based on your corporate positioning and overall messaging, determine the best delivery channels.
Once a message has been scripted, take a moment to decide which inquires your social media team should respond to and how:
– Social updates individually or as a whole
– Individual inquiries through email or phone
– Sending out an email blast to your clients and subscribers
– A corporate blog post
– Through a press release
* Most important rule? Stick to the message.

Step 8: Get the Word Out.
– You’ve done your homework, gotten the buy-in on messaging, and have decided on a distribution channel. It’s now time to get your message out to the channels you’ve chosen.

Step 9: Monitor Reaction and React as Needed.
You’re not done yet! With your message out in the world you need to circle back with your public facing teams and monitor. Is your PR crisis still a crisis? What happens next till ultimately depend on the reaction of the media, your community on social media, etc.
Use your social and PR monitoring tool to decide what to do next in real-time based on reactions and sentiment.

Step 10: Learn from the Process
No one wants to see a PR crisis pop up, but we promise you one thing: no matter how things go you will learn something valuable. Everything you learn will help your company understand how to avoid future crises and will help you to efficiently manage your next crisis.

The success of crisis communications depends entirely on your ability monitor the reactions to the situation in real time and act quickly. What may seem like a big deal when you receive a dozen emails from upset customers may turn out to be a minor bump in the road. By monitoring online social media chatter and media sites you can easily scope the severity of the problem. Monitoring tools will make this process efficient so you and your team react in a timely manner. – Marc Cowlin [Director PR and Content Marketing]