Education Public Relation

How to Build a Winning Public Relations Crisis Strategy

By May 16, 2019November 23rd, 2023No Comments
Public Relations Crisis Strategy Planning
The complete guide to tackling a public relations crisis, from pre-planning to talking with the press, CB&A has you covered. Get started today!

Regardless of industry, public relations disasters affect businesses of all shapes and sizes. And thanks to the rise of social media, news travels faster than ever. But for the savvy business, having a detailed public relations crisis strategy in your back pocket can provide a quick remedy to a difficult situation.

Being prepared to manage the narrative of a PR crisis will significantly lessen the price your company pays. A detailed strategy will help to avoid a negative shift of your brand image or decreased sales, and it can assist in employee and customer retention.

Five Tips for your EdTech Public Relations Crisis Survival Kit

The best time to combat a PR crisis is before it happens. Be proactive. Prepare a crisis management plan and elect the best team members to execute it before disaster strikes. The plan should include possible crisis scenarios, company talking points, audiences to notify, and contact information for your PR crisis team.

Your plan shouldn’t be accessible only to those on the leadership team. A single comment from an employee to the wrong reporter can make a large impact, so encouraging an atmosphere of transparency by sharing crisis communications with your staff can help prevent potential media hiccups.

Should a crisis arise, promptly addressing external audiences is crucial, but internal communications should be your first priority. Now, let’s look at CB&A’s five key tips to include in any public relations crisis strategy, starting with establishing your team.

1. Organize a savvy Public Relations Crisis team

Whether you decide to partner with an agency or assign responsibilities to individuals on your internal team, having a dedicated group ready to execute your plan is pivotal for proper crisis response. Identifying this relationship before a PR crisis hits is the best option. Overall, making PR a priority not only enables you to have professionals in your corner who can jump in to save the day, but it allows you to reap the benefits of an effective PR strategy.

When putting this team together, you’re looking for people ready to step in when forceful decision making is required, who will be cool and resolute under pressure. Handpick candidates with different backgrounds to assist with your crisis strategy. An effective PR team will have a deep understanding of your company’s business goals, strengths weaknesses and messaging, a key advantage when dealing with stakeholders in the heat of a crisis. And, at the center of your crisis team, is your spokesperson.

2. Identify a trusted company spokesperson

The company spokesperson should be someone who does well under pressure, can think on their feet, knows the company well and has influence in the industry and community. While that’s a daunting checklist, it’s imperative to highlight the right person, not just the important person.

Sometimes a company’s CEO or president isn’t the right fit for the job, so weigh your other options. Find a person who articulates well, and provide them with media training to ensure they are prepared for media announcements, both good and bad. Give your spokesperson all the tools they need to succeed and to build a reputation as a trusted media source.

To put a spokesperson in the best possible position to succeed, businesses need to identify potential PR crises proactively – and CB&A has always recommended a log of all potential incidents on file.

3. Track efforts via a detailed incident report log

There are obvious legal reasons to keep an incident report log, but this information also may be handy during a public relations crisis. In general, a company should document all incidents, even the small ones.

Whether you receive a phone call from a person asking strange questions, or a district experiences a program outage, keep a record. What may seem like a silly complaint can quickly turn into a problem. One day you might discount a call from a disgruntled administrator or teacher, the next day you could see that customer talking about your service or product on the news. And from there, you’re one incorrect statement away from a full-blown public relations crisis.

Documenting incidents yields benefits. First, it provides an event timeline to reference in case an incident grows into a larger problem. Second, it tracks patterns, highlighting recurring problems that can be addressed and prevented down the road. By identifying potential issues, proactive reporting will help you C.Y.A. in the future and can assist you in preparing talking points for potentially negative narratives.

4. Pre-draft succinct talking points to likely questions

So, you did everything right on the preparation front, but a crisis still cropped up. When you’re in the heat of a breaking story, the last thing you want is a spokesperson going off script during an interview. If you go into an interview or press conference unprepared, your PR crisis can easily spiral out of control.

To stay ahead of the story, your team needs to anticipate the questions journalists, employees and the public will ask, and practice key answers beforehand. If you can’t answer a question directly, are you prepared to stay on message and shift the narrative? Media relations training that prepares your team for hard-hitting questions can remedy uneasiness and equip you with strategies for navigating any conversation.

Keep your audience in mind. What are their concerns about the issue(s) at hand? Determine your core messages by deciding the three points you want your audience to remember, and find a way to bring each answer back to those key messages.

Study audience reactions to identify any misunderstandings and adapt your approach as necessary to distill concerns. Most importantly, remember to remain calm, stay on-message, and avoid a slip of the tongue. After putting your plan, team and talking points together, you have one final task to tackle: practicing!

5. Practice Makes Perfect

Have a plan ready to go? Great. Now, practice, practice, practice! Describe potential crises and act out a response. Channel your inner Leslie Knope, and prepare a drill or practice challenge for your team. Schedule periodic reviews to keep these skills fresh; you never know when they will be needed.

Need examples of PR crises? Check the news. Companies and other institutions endure them all the time; a few recent examples being Facebook’s data breachBoeing’s 737 Max disaster, and the botched Indiana active-shooter drill. Study these stories to avoid making the same mistakes.

Ultimately, when it comes to a public relations crisis, there’s no guarantee that you’ll shift the narrative, but having a plan that covers every contingency is paramount. It’s equally important to have the right team in place, with members who have practiced their approach with drills and challenges. ­­

A thoughtfully considered public relations crisis strategy and PR team can save your business. A smart company understands that communications crises are inevitable. The real trick to survival is being prepared to get ahead of the story before it spirals out of control.

Need help putting a public relations crisis strategy together? Reach out now.


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