How to keep a cool head in PR: your crisis communications checklist
Keeping a cool head in the midst of a crisis requires not just skill, but a clear sense of direction and purpose too. Without a comprehensive communications plan guiding your approach, you’ll very likely walk into a PR disaster and do significant damage to your reputation.
The problem is many companies operating in the B2B marketplace believe they are insulated from the risk of public-facing crises. In truth, they couldn’t be more wrong. As a B2B PR agency that’s been around the block a few times, we know first-hand that the potential for a PR crisis exists in every industry, be it technology, education or even science. And more often than not, the crisis stems from something completely innocuous and unexpected.
To help you prepare your business for any eventuality and navigate public opinion in those critical first hours of a crisis, we’ve created a communications checklist.
Tick this checklist and sleep well at night
In the event of a crisis, who is going to do what? Your team members need to know clearly their roles and objectives to respond quickly and effectively. When people are unsure what to do in a crisis, they invariably make copious cups of tea – or disappear. Outline everyone’s responsibilities in a shareable document that includes their contact details. Should disaster strike, you are going to need all hands on deck immediately. Tea can wait.
Establish the facts
As soon as the crisis hits, you need to get the full picture as quickly as possible. Identify the relevant internal factors that contributed to the issue – but also consider what’s happening in the industry and wider society. Failing to understand the bigger cultural context outside of your business can turn a manageable blaze into an uncontrollable wildfire. It’s crucial to get this right.
Pull in the big guns
Your communications team should never tackle a PR crisis alone. It always pays to consult the legal department, appraise senior management and if needs be, work with an experienced agency to help manage the media and messaging.
Get everybody on board
Don’t think that the junior intern who has been there a week is exempt from crisis management. Every single employee from the very top all the way down has to be absolutely clear on the company’s communications protocol. We have helped many clients develop a step-by-step guide for their employees on how to field inbound enquiries, share updates with stakeholders, and police their social media.
Don’t lose momentum
After the initial storm it’s easy to slouch back and take a breather. Yes, the first few hours are make-or-break, but once you’ve weathered those, you need to jump straight into mitigating any spin-off crises that could occur – as well as recovering your reputation. Pull in expert help, if needs be, and review how you and your team responded to and managed the crisis – could anything have been done better or faster?
Some golden rules to remember
In addition to the checklist we look at some of the basic rules of crisis communications. Keep these in mind at all times, particularly in the early throes of a crisis, and you’ll come out in a far better position.
The importance of playing any crisis with a “straight bat”, employing even the smallest falsehood is likely to make the situation much worse.
Be open and honest about timescales for improvements, the eventual solution, and recovery, that way you’ll create realistic expectations and rebuild trust.
It’s vital you don’t try to hide the issue beneath a veneer of jargon and detail; baffling stakeholders should be the last thing on your mind.
It’s not always easy when tensions are running high but maintain a respectful tone in all communications.
Above all, work quickly. This may be costly, but when the choice is between spending and potentially terminal damage to your reputation it’s usually worth it.
There is no doubt that navigating a PR crisis successfully largely depends upon the quality of your planning and support. If you’d like to speak to us about how we can help you put together your own crisis communications checklist and plan, then please get in touch.