Insight October 2, 2017

Crisis Communications: The Doomsday Prepping of Public Relations


By Anna Condon, Junior Copywriter

It’s a well-known fact that the best time to prepare for a crisis is before it happens. Schools and businesses hold routine fire drills, people stock their cars with emergency blankets and tools, and families fill their pantries with an emergency stash of water and canned goods.

We’re told to “hope for the best, but plan for the worst.”

Planning for a public relations crisis is no different. In the age of social media and the 24-hour news cycle, every organization is vulnerable. One misstep – even one that might have been easily buried or forgotten in years past – can threaten your brand. If you aren’t prepared, your reaction to a crisis can increase the damage to your organization ­– so it’s imperative to have a plan in place that accounts for a variety of scenarios.

Like survivalists, public relations departments often fall into one of three categories: Just Enough, Ready for Almost Anything, and See You When the Dust Settles. In which category does your company fall?

Notebook with "Are You Ready?" written on it

Just Enough

When it comes to crisis communications, “just enough” is often not enough. Companies that fit into this category tend to believe that major public relations disasters don’t happen, or that a crisis would never involve their brand.

Preparation for this group includes selecting a spokesperson who will be in charge, should the team need to address the press. It might also include a few canned responses that could be applied to virtually any scenario (but without much accuracy for any of them).

Ready for Almost Anything

Public relations teams which fall into this category know the value of a crisis communications plan and have a designated spokesperson in place, should the worst happen. As part of the preparation, they have created the crisis management plan, selected and trained the crisis management team, and conducted exercises to test the crisis management plan and team.

While they have done the legwork, the crisis plan is limited to a very specific pattern of events. There is very little in the way of contingency plans, and the plan is not updated regularly.

See You When the Dust Settles

Everyone’s favorite survivalist. These teams are prepared for any conceivable public relations disaster. With contingency plan upon contingency plan, they are ready for any possible scenario and are prepared to adapt to the unexpected.

While the Ready for Almost Anything crowd prepared for every disaster with one plan, this team has binders full of possible scenarios with multiple plans and backups to ensure their brand’s survival.

If the worst happens, stakeholders are aware of the communications plan, know their role, and are empowered to act. Plus, communication plans are based on the organization’s underlying principles, and such plans make it easy to adapt on the fly in the face of new information.