8 Steps to Handling a PR Horror Story

A PR crisis is lurking around every corner in today’s information-driven market environment. A single off-the-cuff comment, a partner misstep or a seemingly unrelated scandal is all that is needed to topple reputations, impact revenues and turn away customers.


Having a concrete, current PR crisis plan in place can help today where a single news item can spread like wildfire within a few hours across international borders.  Below is a simple 8-step plan.


  1. Realize you are in a crisis

Denial is your worst enemy in the midst of a crisis. It must with dealt with immediately. Your customers and rivals will not wait for you to ponder your response.


  1. Don’t panic

It may sound like an oxymoron, but there are serious reasons for not panicking. First, you need to have a clear mind when dealing with a crisis. If you panic, you end up reacting and not managing the crisis. Other team or company members will also be observing you. Panic-stricken looks will only see many of them to look for the door.


  1. Build a war council

Build a crisis management team based on key individuals from all key departments (both customer-facing and operational) to become your think tank. In a crisis, like war, information becomes the first victim. Surround yourself with the right talent to offer clear advice from different perspectives.


  1. Ensure the war council has a direct route to the executive team

This is very important and often missed. Your crisis management team needs to offer viewpoints directly to the executive team and/or the Board. This shortens the approval process, particularly important when time is of the essence. Your executive team can spend time deliberating further on investor and shareholder interests—decisions that the crisis management team does not need to bother with while looking for a way out of the crisis.


  1. Start investigating

As said before, information is the first victim in a crisis. So it is time to work your own information channels. Here, company relationships with key partners are useful, as is your PR team’s strong relationship with key publications. Social media listening tools/services also offer useful insights. Most importantly, understand how your business is being impacted at this time.


  1. Prepare a consistent message

Once you have full information on the crisis and understand how your business is being impacted, it is time to develop a consistent message to communicate internally and externally. In a crisis, every employee becomes a source for media, customers and partners. Arming them with the right information can turn them into your best information advocates.


  1. Choose the channels for getting the word out

It used to be an official press conference. But today, getting the word out is not the problem; getting the right word out clearly is. Use both the official route, as well as a social media route. The official channel (a press release or an official blog) offers a single route for dispensing key information so as to clear up any misinformation or misconceptions. A social media channel allows you to listen to how well these messages are being heard and reacted upon by your customers and partners.


  1. Learn and share

Every crisis is a learning opportunity. Document and learn. And then use that information to refine. Your professionalism and spot on response in dealing with a crisis will be admired by rivals and prospects, in addition to your current customers and employees. The good news is you are now more prepared and experienced to proactively deal with the next PR crisis.


Obviously the 8 steps listed are only the tip of the iceberg. There are many other smaller steps that need to be taken. And remember, hidden within each crisis, there is also an opportunity to make it a PR win. We’ll talk about that later.