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Crisis management: the basics

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PR can have a reputation as a ‘fluffy’ profession… until an emergency hits. Maintaining public relations has a vital role to play in handling the situation – so what steps should a PR agency take to prepare for crisis management?

In this blog, we speak to Simon White, who worked for many years in crisis management for a national utility company. Here are his tips:

Preparation is key

It’s not possible to prepare a contingency plan for every conceivable crisis. However, as a starting point, you should have a general plan in place. Following this, use a risk matrix (likelihood x impact) to identify where you should build specific contingency plans. Time spent planning for a crisis is one of the best investments you can make for your client. It means that when they are in need you can help immediately.

Prepare a template for a media briefing form. Think about everything you might need to include. How would an emergency impact the client, its employees, its customer base and the general public? Do you have a clear picture of who the key stakeholders are? This may change depending on the nature of the crisis, but is a useful starting point. In short: advanced planning is the key to dealing effectively with a crisis.

Keep a calm head

A well-managed crisis inspires trust and confidence in a company. Keeping a calm head is essential. Even the most hardened PR professional can have moments of panic, though. Take a deep breath and consider every possible outcome of every scenario. Don’t make snap decisions or hasty suggestions. You will only earn a reputation as someone who can be relied upon in a crisis if you consistently give considered, well-thought-out advice.

Keep communication open 

Communicating throughout a crisis is also vital. It’s the best way to manage people’s expectations and keep them abreast of the latest updates. So, identify a method of communication in the crisis management planning process, whether that’s email, social media or other channel. Use your chosen method to update your audience regularly.

Expect some negativity in a crisis and deal with it calmly and considerately. Don’t be too proud to say sorry when necessary. Attempt to answer all genuine questions in a certain time frame and with the correct details. Remember that we live in a time of 24/7 news. That means you need to be prepared to deal with out-of-hours issues.

Dealing with the media 

Depending on the crisis level, media outlets may contact you asking for a statement or update. In fact, as soon as the crisis hits you should start putting together a statement. You can then tweak it as the situation changes. Make sure the client has seen it and is happy with every permutation. It is then available to send to all the media outlets which request it.

Identify a client spokesperson during your planning process. However, when a crisis occurs, make sure they are still happy with this role and are the most appropriate person for the situation. Do they need to give a live statement or interview? You can help make sure that they are happy with what they have to say and the message they need to convey. Practise the interview with them, pretending to be the interviewer. And don’t hold back on the tough questions. It’s important they’re prepared and confident on camera.

 

The way you manage a crisis is vitally important to your business. For more information on how Liberty PR can help, email hello@libertypr.co.uk 

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