Crisis PR | Planning Ahead Maximizes Response Minimizes Impact

crisis-planningSometimes a seemingly tiny crisis can turn out to be a major ordeal. Little things can blow up into big matters very quickly – especially online.

This week, United Airlines’ stock nose dived and almost crashed due to a story, published in 2002, about United’s bankruptcy filing. According to some reports, as much as $1.41 billion evaporated in a few hours before coming back, still short of where the stock stood before the story’s actual date was confirmed.

Did United see this crisis coming? How could they?

What might happen to your business or organization in the event of a public, personal or internal public relations crisis? How would you respond in the event of a natural disaster or even a power outage?

Wait – is a power outage a crisis? On the smaller end of the crisis spectrum, our local Trader Joe’s was without power the Friday of Labor Day weekend. I didn’t know that when I pulled into the almost empty parking lot. As customers walked up to the dark store, employees greeted them and apologized profusely for the power outage, handed out the manager’s business card, and told us they expected to have power back within three hours. But, we should call first so we didn’t waste a trip.  Couldn’t they have just taped a sign on the door? Yet, but that’s not the kind of personal service we expect from our Trader Joe’s. Does the response have to match the way the brand or organization relates to its community?



an unstable situation of extreme danger or difficulty; “they went bankrupt during the economic crisis” 

a crucial stage or turning point in the course of something; “after the crisis the patient either dies or gets better” 

WordNet® 3.0, © 2006 by Princeton University.

Planning ahead and preparing for a crisis while things are calm can help you minimize the impact.

Here are a few ideas to help you strategize your crisis PR response . . .

  • Study the Basic Principles for PR Crisis Communications from Global PR Blog Week
  • Take a Crash Course in Public Relations from Forbes
  • Draft a plan; use this outline as a template Crisis Communication Plan: A PR Blueprint
  • Prepare to respond – immediately. Buy some time by answering with when you will be prepared to talk: “We’re aware of the situation and we’re working on a response to be given at _________.”
  • Update frequently, even if it’s only to say when you’ll be giving another update.
  • Appoint a designated spokesperson ahead of time and let everyone in your organization know that this person, and this person only, will respond to media inquiries. You can always bring in other people as the story unfolds.
  • Answer: What was your organization’s place in the crisis?
  • Take a reality check: how big is this crisis? to who? why?
  • Make sure your media list is up-to-date and your connections are fresh. Calling your friend Joe and finding out that he’s been reassigned to another paper won’t help.
  • Form an alliance group. Round up allies who support what you do and will be willing to speak on your behalf, if you need them.
  • Expand your allies from personal to partners to online connections.
  • Monitor the crisis conversation everywhere, especially online in social media circles from Advergirl
  • Set up Google alerts that let you know when your organization in mentioned. Check into Serph, HowSocialbe and Twitter search to see who’s talking about you. Join your industry forums to track and reply to comments there.
  • Prepare for a PR crisis that might emerge from the blogosphere with Steve Rubel‘s Blog Crisis and Communications Planning guide
  • Refresh your media room regularly so you appear current and active

Your Turn

Do you have a crisis communications plan in place? What would you add?

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