Plan for a PR crisis before one hits you

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Imagine the situation:  a negative news story breaks and all hell breaks loose. You have to manage the situation and speed is of the essence.  Knowing what you need to do right from the off, can mean the difference between handling the crisis successfully and not.

In this situation, a pre-crisis management plan can be critical.

Firstly, it’s important to understand what a PR crisis is so that you can recognise it and start to plan a response immediately.  Generally speaking, it’s a rumour, story or event that has the potential to damage an organisation’s reputation and/or financial prospects.

Different industries will face their own specific crisis situations – the need to recall a product, for example, is a highly damaging prospect for car and FMCG markets.  As recently as September this year, a French brewery had to recall many of its UK-sold beer products due to fears of glass in the bottles (

For financial and insurance organisations, any number of situations could represent a PR crisis including:

  • Rumours of an inability to meet claims liabilities
  • A fine by the regulator for miss-selling
  • The loss of a key underwriting team

Developing a Crisis Management Plan

It’s natural – but short-sighted – to believe a crisis will never occur.  Prepare before-hand and you won’t be scrabbling around in a panic when a PR crisis does hit.  You plan doesn’t need to be long and complex and will be a good use of time.  If a crisis occurs at 3am in the morning in another time zone, for example, trying to get a coherent team together promptly will be very challenging.

What should be in a plan?

The objective of a plan is to ensure the initial reaction is as calm, efficient and organised as possible when a crisis breaks.  It should contain the following:

  • The make-up the crisis management team – this could be the CEO, MD, head of legal, head of marketing and/or PR, PR agency and so on.
  • The key roles – define these, such as the spokesman, from the outset
  • Contact details for all members of the team – office, mobile and home numbers as well as email addresses so they are all to hand and easily accessible

Of course, the response to each crisis will be different and will need a different management approach.  But it’s the job of the crisis management team to come together quickly, discuss the issue and develop a crisis management strategy.