Crisis management is a critical organizational function. Failure can result in serious harm to stakeholders, losses for an organization, or the end of its existence. Crisis management is when an organization deals with a disruptive and unexpected event that threatens to harm it or its stakeholders. Besides crisis management, it is the application of strategies designed to help an organization deal with a sudden and significant negative event.
A crisis can occur because of an unpredictable event or as an unforeseeable consequence of an event considered a potential risk. In either case, crises almost invariably require that decisions be made quickly to limit damage to the organization. The nature of the potential damage varies based on the nature of the crisis.
In most cases, a crisis can affect health or safety, the organization’s finances, reputation, or some combination of these. A devastating fire could be a crisis that jeopardizes the organization’s finances. However, if the fire occurs during business hours, it might also jeopardize health and safety since employees may find themselves in harm’s way. Public relations practitioners are an integral part of crisis management teams.
A set of best practices and lessons gleaned from our knowledge of crisis management would be a very useful resource for those in public relations. Volumes have been written about crisis management by practitioners and researchers from many different disciplines, making it challenging to synthesize what we know about crisis management and public relations’ place in that knowledge base.
It is the process of preparing an organization for a major event that threatens the organization, its reputation, stakeholders, or the public. Public relations professionals play a vital role in crisis communication.
During a crisis, a PR department’s main goal is to inform all interested parties about the current situation, potential risks, and planned actions. A well-prepared crisis plan should contain the first type of message sent to the world. This generic message should restore trust in your organization and give you time to investigate the issue. The public relations and marketing team is your company’s first line of defense.
Whether you leave the crisis unscathed depends mainly on how well you handle Public Relations crisis management.
First, you need to know when and how to react. So, let’s deal with “when” first. Not every negative comment constitutes a Public Relations crisis that could damage your brand’s reputation and requires your CEO’s involvement.
The real, big problem appears when a mishap spreads in business news. You can implement a triage technique to assess the severity of the potential PR disaster. Assessing the problem will help you manage the situation and save resources on unnecessary actions. You must give any situation you consider threatening the right color: green, orange, or red.
You might think your product is superb and your organization works smoothly. That doesn’t mean you’re immune to crises. Nowadays, the question is not if a PR disaster hits you but when it will happen.
That’s why you should have a crisis response plan in place. No matter when a crisis occurs, every member of all strategic departments within your company will know how to react and what to do. The crisis communication plan could also help new employees join your company during PR turbulence.
The new hires will immediately know how to act and the company’s strategy in a crisis.
Having a crisis communication strategy prepared is important, but apart from the theory, knowing how to react when a catastrophe occurs is crucial.
If you have second thoughts about the best ways to handle a PR crisis, we created a list of seven steps to help you get through tough times. These are our best practices. Stick to them, and you will indeed have them under your control.
Not every negative remark about a brand constitutes a PR mishap. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t respond to negative statements. Just don’t involve your CEO in 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 the negative message can gain traction and focus your audience on a problem. Sometimes, doing nothing is the best possible option when it comes to reputation management.
It would be best to act fast once you know you’re dealing with a PR crisis. Time is of the essence. The sooner you address the issue, the greater the chance you’ll be able to control the narrative and minimize the damage. People expect a response in no time. There will need to be more time to craft some well-thought-out replies.
That’s why you should prepare generic answers to publish immediately or on Twitch. Think about the social media 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 the impression that you have the situation under control. There will be time for more detailed explanations later in the process.
You need to train your employees so they know what to do and how to act. Pointing to the right employees and clearly defining their responsibilities is vital.
Even the best team will only be knowledgeable if they 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 a wider audience, for example, the press. A potentially viral negative opinion can appear on one of the social media channels.
If one of your communication specialists picks up the threatening mention, there is still time to protect your organization’s reputation. If the crisis escalates, you need a holistic team you can trust. The team will work on the message you want to send out, manage press releases, and try to maintain the trust of your customers. This will ensure that your crisis communications efforts will run smoothly and that everyone will be in the right place at the right time.
The trained personnel should assess the PR mishap situation and act accordingly. Every PR crisis requires a different approach and reaction.
That’s why the first action of a PR crisis response team should be damage assessment and control. Depending on a PR crisis’s size and possible implications, the team should choose an appropriate response. After the team decides what to do, they should start counteracting the effects of a crisis.
You have the holding statements, which 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 minimize 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 organization ready to repair the damage done.
Once your brand, product, or service is under fire, you should look for people who can vouch for it.
That’s why you should look at influencers and top public figures who could endorse your brand during and after the crisis. Choosing the right person to work with is the key to a successful influencer campaign. The most suitable 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 mishap.
Once you log into your project, go to the Analysis tab. There, you can find two tables: the most popular and active public profiles. Of course, you still must vet the names. Examine what type of content they post, how the engagement looks under their posts, and on which social media platforms they are active.
Based on the analysis, choose the right influencer to endorse your brand.
The final step is equally important as the previous ones. Remember that you can learn a lot from all your mistakes.
That’s why analyzing the Public Relations crisis management plan is so important. 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? Look at the response to the PR messages you’ve sent out. Could you improve them in any way?
Use different distribution channels? Change the tone? The wording? Assessing PR crisis management will give you the necessary insights into PR crisis strategy.
Once you know what to do before, during, and after the crisis, you may want to know which tools could help you handle the situation. Besides the media monitoring tool we mentioned earlier, you should do some research and have PR crisis management tools in place. Firstly, you need a tool to communicate easily with your employees.
I recommend Slack, as it allows you 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 other 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.
Each PR specialist dreams about maintaining a positive brand reputation. But knowing all the facts mentioned above, you probably have one question – can you avoid a PR crisis altogether?
Unfortunately, you can’t. You depend on others—your suppliers, vendors, employees, or circumstances you can’t predict. However, you can always prepare for a PR crisis. It’s not easy, as you never know what might hit you or how long the crisis will last.
When handling a PR crisis, you should always expect the unexpected.
Crisis management seeks to minimize the damage a crisis causes. However, crisis management is different from crisis response. Instead, crisis management is a comprehensive process that is put into practice before a crisis even happens. Crisis management practices are employed before, during, and after a crisis.
Before a crisis begins, pre-crisis planning aims to identify risks and find ways to mitigate or lessen those risks.
However, it is important to note that crisis management and risk management are two different things. Risk management means looking for ways to minimize risks. Crisis management involves figuring out the best response when an incident occurs.
Risk management is an important part of crisis management, but crisis management covers incident response, whereas risk management usually does not.
Insurance policies offering crisis management coverage may narrowly define the types of events they cover. Types of covered events may include workplace violence, assault, firearm use, food contamination, and workplace accidents. Covered events may also include credit card breaches or the hacking of a company’s computer network by an outside party. Additionally, it might cover harm from an inside job or employee sabotage.
Whether in local or national forums, news media coverage of the event may spark the coverage. Coverage will typically apply for a set period, such as 60 days, after a crisis event occurs and be subject to an aggregate limit.
Policy coverage may include paying for various types of consultants, such as communications professionals, to assist the policyholder in identifying and executing a strategy to limit any further impact of the event in the media. For example, the business may need to employ a public relations professional. The policy may also cover a loss of business income for a set period. In some cases, policies may cover post-event issues, such as funeral arrangements or counseling for individuals who witnessed or were involved in the event.
Businesses that implement a continuity plan in case of unforeseen contingencies can mitigate the effects of a negative event. Having a business continuity plan in place in a crisis is known as crisis management. Most firms start by conducting a risk analysis of their operations. Risk analysis is the process of identifying adverse events that may occur and estimating their likelihood of occurring. By running simulations and random variables with risk models, such as scenario tables, a risk manager can assess the probability of a threat occurring in the future, the best- and worst-case outcomes, and the damage the company would incur should this threat come to fruition.
For example, a risk manager may estimate that the probability of a flood occurring within a company’s area of operation is very high.
The worst-case scenario would be destroying the company’s computer systems, thereby losing pertinent data on customers, suppliers, and ongoing projects. The crisis management team creates a plan to contain any emergency should it materialize once the risk manager is aware of potential risks and impacts. For example, a company facing flood risk might create a backup system for all computer systems. This way, the company would still have a record of its data and work processes.
Although the business might slow down for a short period while the company purchases new computer equipment, operations would not be completely halted. Having a crisis resolution plan, a company and its stakeholders can prepare for and adapt to unexpected and adverse developments.
Warning and risk assessment. As important as it may be to identify risks and plan for ways to minimize those risks and their effects, it is equally important to establish monitoring systems that can provide early warning signals of any foreseeable crisis.
These early warning systems can take various forms and differ widely based on the identified risks. Some early warning systems might be mechanical or electronic. For instance, thermography is sometimes used to detect heat buildup before a fire starts. Other early warning systems may consist of financial metrics.
For example, an organization can anticipate a substantial drop in revenue by monitoring its customers’ stock prices.
The key to effective pre-crisis planning involves as many stakeholders as possible. That way, all areas of the organization are represented in the risk identification and risk planning processes.
Corporate crisis response teams often include representatives from the organization’s legal, human resources (HR), finance, and operations staff. It is also customary to identify someone to act as a crisis manager. Crisis response and management When a crisis occurs, the crisis manager is responsible for directing the organization’s response following its established crisis management plan. The crisis manager is usually also the person who is tasked with communicating with the public.
If a crisis affects public health or safety, the crisis manager should make a public statement as quickly as possible. The media will inevitably seek out employees for comment in a public crisis.
The organization’s employees must know who is and is not authorized to speak to the media. Employees allowed to speak to the media must do so in a manner consistent with what the crisis manager is saying.
Post-crisis and resolution After a crisis subside and business begins to return to normal, the crisis manager should continue to meet with members of the crisis management team, especially those from the legal and finance departments, to evaluate the progress of the recovery efforts. At the same time, the crisis manager will need to provide the latest information to key stakeholders to keep them aware of the current situation.
Following a crisis, it is also important for the crisis management team to revisit the organization’s crisis management plan to evaluate how well it worked and what aspects need to be revised based on what was learned during the crisis.
The field of crisis management is generally considered to have originated with Johnson & Johnson’s handling of a situation in 1982 when cyanide-laced Tylenol killed seven people in the Chicago area.
The company immediately recalled all Tylenol capsules in the country and offered free products in tamper-proof packaging. As a result of the company’s swift and effective response, the effect on shareholders was minimized, and the brand recovered and flourished.
All major corporations, nonprofit agencies, and public-sector organizations use crisis management today. Developing, practicing, and updating a crisis management plan is critical to ensuring a business can respond to unforeseen disasters.
However, the nature of the crisis management activities can vary based on the type of organization. For instance, a manufacturing company will likely need a crisis management plan for responding to a large-scale industrial accident, such as an explosion or chemical spill.
In contrast, insurance companies would be far less likely to face such risks. Of course, it doesn’t take something as dramatic as an industrial accident to require the activation of a crisis management plan.
Any event that can damage the organization’s finances or reputation may be the cause for putting the crisis management plan into action.
Crisis management is different from risk management. Risk management involves planning for events that might occur in the future, and crisis management involves reacting to negative events during and after they have occurred.
An oil company, for example, may have a plan to deal with the possibility of an oil spill. If such a disaster occurs, the spill’s magnitude, public opinion backlash, and cleanup cost can vary greatly and may exceed expectations. The scale makes it a crisis.
A crisis can either be self-inflicted or caused by external forces. Examples of external forces that could affect an organization’s operations include natural disasters, security breaches, or false rumours that hurt a business’s reputation. Self-inflicted crises are caused within the organization, such as when an employee smokes in an environment that contains hazardous chemicals, downloads questionable computer files, or offers poor customer service that goes viral online.
An internal crisis can be managed, mitigated, or avoided if a company enforces strict compliance guidelines and protocols regarding ethics, policies, rules, and regulations among employees.
Crisis management coverage is designed to help a business limit the negative impact of events on its reputation. It is an insurance agreement usually made as part of a policy covering technology errors and omissions and Internet property and liability insurance policies.
Previously concerned with reputation management, crisis management coverage is increasingly used to cover expenses incurred to restore confidence in the security of the insured’s computer systems in the event of a cybersecurity or data breach.
It also covers reputational threats such as product contamination or recall, terrorism, political violence, natural disasters, workplace violence, and adverse media exposure. Large corporations are the most frequent buyers of crisis management coverage, but any business whose profitability is closely linked to its reputation is a potential customer.
A PR crisis occurs when no one expects it. And usually, it spreads quickly among business news. But it is not the end of the world. The key is to know how to react in such a stressful situation.
You should start by listening to the online chatter about your brand. Then develop a PR crisis management plan. As mentioned in this article, a well-prepared plan can contain seven steps. PR disasters are stressful situations. Your employees need to know the strategy. Otherwise, they might panic. Once a crisis hits, you will know what to do. Some troubles you can’t prevent, but surely you can minimize the damage.
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