Business Advice

Crisis Communications – 5 questions to help you through

Every so often, those of us working in PR will get hit full frontal by a crisis.  Asking yourself 5 questions as the crisis develops will help you prevent it from becoming a full-on meltdown.

Question 1: What is the objective assessment of the situation?

Crises, by their very nature, are all consuming, high-pressure and often emotional situations.

And it’s way too easy to get swept along in the current.

By taking a step back, looking at the situation from the outside and without any of your personal attachments/baggage, you’ll gain valuable perspective which will guide your response.

This stage will also help you work out if you’re facing an immediate crisis (defined by range, depth, brand impact etc), an inconvenience or a problem which, if handled wrong, will become a crisis.

Question 2: What is the expected duration of the crisis?

Once you’ve got your objective view point, you’ll be able to gauge how long the crisis might last.  Your objective assessment should have identified the cause of the crisis, the depths to which it penetrates your organisation and the some of the most appropriate steps to take to head it off.

Depending of the expected duration of the crisis, you’ll know whether you need to draft in extra resources to help you cope.

NOTE – NEVER, ever, hope that it will ‘just go away’.  It won’t.

Question 3: What is the best, worst and most likely outcome for the crisis?

Run a quick mapping exercise to plot these three outcomes.

Knowing the best outcome will help you design communications to steer the crisis in that direction. (See the above note about hoping it will go away however…)

Identifying the worst outcome (as far as you’re able.  Be as bleak, but as realistic, as you can in this phase) will get you mentally prepared for the fight, and identify what strategic measures you need to put in place to roadblock the crisis should it escalate.

The most likely outcome is perhaps the most important part of the equation, and the planning here should focus on supplying no more or no less time/resource to the crisis than you would any other communication.  This will identify a point between the best and worst outcomes, focussing attention on the time and resources needed to divert “most likely” away from “worst” and towards “best”.

Question 4: Who can be called on to damage-limit or mitigate the problem?

You’re not alone.

And if you feel alone in a crisis, hit me up for a chat.  If I can help, I will.

As the PR/Communications representative for your brand, you have a legion of managers, board members, Executive Directors etc to call on to provide timely, accurate comment.

Fielding the right individual to answer media comments, provide statements of intent or take the flack  can expedite the passage of a crisis by providing a clearly recognisable face with the appropriate level of brand/organisational clout for the level of crisis that you’re facing.

My one rule of crisis management at any scale is to completely avoid “a spokesperson said”.  This looks like you’re trying to hide something.  Be open, honest and transparent at all times – in the long run this will pay dividends.

Question 5: Are there any opportunities to turn the incident into a positive?

Sometimes, crises lend themselves to reaffirming your core values or the steps that you’ll take to make sure that the situation never arises again.

If an employee has done something stupid and posted it to a social network (licking tortilla shells, for example), you may be able to use the experience to reassure customers that you do, in fact, offer rigorous food preparation training, but that you acknowledge something went wrong here.  You can then (with the help of your appropriate spokesperson) lay out the steps you’ll take to make sure that this doesn’t happen again, reaffirming your core value of customer satisfaction etc.

Be warned though – not all crises can be dealt with in this way and you need to tread really carefully to avoid accusations that you’re spinning the situation.


Saying – but more importantly DOING – the right thing at the right time is key to defusing a crisis.  Get it right, and you could deepen your connection with your customers for the long term, and perhaps win more business through positive word of mouth.

Get it wrong and you’ve got a lot of sleepless nights ahead…

Neil Hopkins is a Marketing and Branding Theorist at heart, and a Marketing Communications Manager by day. His blog – interacter – is the primary location he shares insight and information relating to marketing, branding and advertising strategy.
You can follow Neil on Twitter, circle him (like an escaped bull) on Google+ or track him down in any number of other ways.

Featured image found on Flickr.

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