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A Guide To Crisis Management

Four simple steps to help you prepare for and manage a crisis

Crises look different for each business. Something that may cripple one company may not affect another as much. Regardless of the size of your business, you should be assessing what could impact it enough for your sales/reputation/offering to be affected and creating a plan to minimise those effects as much as possible.

Gabrielle Sigelski and Hayley Cole from Stellar join me to share some insight on preparing for and managing a crisis.

*** NOTE: The three of us are not crisis management experts. We have all handled numerous crises in our time, big and small, so the below guide is an overview of considerations based on our experience.

“Anticipate and plan for the worst. You're much more level-headed when you're not in a crisis so make the most of that to create a comprehensive but clear crisis management plan. It will give you a far better chance of managing the situation and repercussions of it, well"

What is considered a crisis?

Generally, it's a time of difficulty or danger which will have a detrimental affect on your brand/business. It could impact the likes of sales, reputation and consumer confidence as well as a businesses relationship with internal and external stakeholders.

Crises don't just affect global, billion-dollar companies. Every business will have a collection of different crises that will be impactful to them, from issues with a product release, burglary of a venue, a professional or personal scandal within a company through to an unauthorised release of confidential information. There's no set description of what it can be, each business needs to evaluate what a crisis is to them.

Listen to the full episode on The PR Pod podcast for more tips on crisis management. You'll also find this episode on your fave podcast players including Apple Podcasts and Spotify, just search "The PR Pod".

Should you have a crisis plan for every business?

Every business should do a risk assessment and ensure they can, to the best of their ability, evaluate what risks and ultimately crises, could impact them.

Sometimes this is the role of a PR agency or an in-house PR team, other times a business may use a specialist crisis communications agency or their corporate communications department.

If you work for a PR agency and you have a new client for a short-term project of three months, it probably doesn't warrant spending hours creating a crisis communication plan and they won't be expecting you to do this for them. However, it is still worth doing a quick assessment of any particular issues that may come up during the campaign and ensure you feel informed enough to manage them.

If you have taken on a new client as a retainer and you are managing all of their PR, then I would be discussing a crisis communications plan with them.

What should a crisis communications plan include?

1. Review what a crisis looks like for your business

Create a list of all the potential issues the business could face. Differentiate between a challenging/annoying issue and a crisis and have a clear understanding at what point something becomes a crisis. Identify the different levels of a crisis, based on their impact to the business.

2. Create an action plan for each crisis

Your action plan will need to be reviewed when you are in the crisis as you may not be able to predict all the different variables in advance. However, you should be able to create a template of an action plan that will give you a great structure and guide when it does happen. Here's a few of the elements to consider in each action plan:

  • Create key messages which address the facts of the crisis and what your company is doing about to manage and resolve it

  • Identify who the best spokesperson would be for this particular crisis and evaluate if they have appropriate media training to be able to handle the media requirements of a crisis. If not, now is a great time to get them some training

  • Clarify who makes the final call within a crisis of when to release information and what that information should include

  • Determine the stakeholders who you will need to communicate with. Your stakeholders could include your customers, employees, media, board members, suppliers etc.

  • Assess what forms of communication you will utilise (internal and external) for each of these stakeholder groups, who is responsible for communicating with each group and across each channel and what flow the communication should follow. Consider your social media accounts, website, company intranet as well as media relations. And think about whether your employees should be updated on information before media are

  • Identify the media outlets you may need to proactively approach during a crisis. This could include newspapers, news websites, radio and television. Know who your allies are and which media outlets are likely to be supportive or, at the very least, objective. You may need to lean on them during the crisis. You also may not have time to try and find the appropriate email addresses or phone numbers in the midst of a crisis but this is a very easy thing to do in advance

  • Create a gallery of relevant imagery. This may include the spokesperson as well as general product/venue shots. It may seem insignificant in the chaos of a crisis but we all know media require images to accompany stories so rather than them dragging up old imagery, it's best to provide relevant, approved photos upfront

3. Managing the crisis

  • Ensure your spokesperson is available whenever required. If the person originally appointed as the spokesperson is currently on an overseas trip and doesn't have reliable phone or wifi coverage, then you will need to look at appointing an alternative. Ease of access is imperative

  • Release statements at appropriate times. This is usually done at the start of a crisis, to acknowledge there is an issue and to provide reassurance it is being managed. Depending on the size of the crisis and how long its lifespan is, it could just be one other statement to provide an update on what the resolution was and how it will be prevented from happening again. If it's something that will have news value for a few days or won't be resolved for that time frame, then you should look at releasing regular updates

  • Get in front of the crisis. By being forthright and clear with the details of the crisis and how it is being managed, it will help your stakeholders feel confident this is under control or at least being managed efficiently. There will undoubtedly be information media don't need to know but try and be as honest as you can

  • Don't avoid answering media calls. If you evade media, they will find a source elsewhere and that source may not be providing accurate or approved information. Answer and return each media call, and let them know you will be in touch as soon as you have an update. Make note of any specific questions so they can potentially be addressed in a broader company statement. You want journalists to feel like you are the best person they should be liaising with, which means you can control the flow of information

  • Be consistent when communicating across channels. If you are releasing a statement to media, then ensure that statement is also released on social media and updated onto your website (if appropriate) at the same time

  • Keep to the plan. You will always need to tweak a plan when in the midst of a crisis but remember the original plan was made when you had the space and objectivity to be calm and considered. If you become reactive in the moment and throw out the plan or don't refer to it, you're more likely to make poor decisions

  • Consider media deadlines. It doesn't mean you have to tailor your whole crisis plan around meeting those deadlines but it may be helpful to be able to provide an update for the evening news bulletin so you need to know when they file their stories by

  • It can be worth aligning with one media outlet/journalist and getting them across the crisis from the start. It can help with authenticity and transparency, as well as your company's relationship with that outlet

  • Ensure you are have someone constantly monitoring comments on social media channels and media coverage. You/your client/your company will want to know what is being said about them. Consider giving your press coverage service a quick call to let them know you are expecting coverage on this issue and you'd appreciate them sending it through ASAP. Ensure your community managers are passing on any relevant commentary and directing people to the provided statement

4. Post-crisis review

  • Review why the crisis happened and how you can prevent it doing so again

  • Evaluate how the crisis was managed and whether any elements of the plan needs to be tweaked

  • Consider if the crisis has impacted the PR strategy and if so, what changes need to be made. For example, pre-crisis, you may have been focussed on the launch of a new selection of products whereas now, your focus needs to shift to rebuilding the reputation of the brand in general

  • Analyse how the media responded, which outlets were supportive/objective and make note. If any outlets or journalists gave you negative coverage, assess how you can bring them back on board as brand advocates

  • Review if there's any demographics of consumers who were negatively affected more than others by the crisis, and create a strategy for specifically re-engaging them


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