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Seven Steps to Managing a Crisis

By Rosie Gillam and Beth Burghgraef, Senior Account Executives 

“Put time between anger and response.” – Abraham Lincoln

Crises are never planned and they come in many forms. From violent and immediate – flood, epidemic or major accident – to non-violent and emerging – data breach, product failure or fiscal mismanagement – crisis situations are difficult and they call for smart, effective action.

As public relations professionals, our responsibility is far more broad than advising and implementing news and social media strategies in a crisis. We are to take a lead role in guiding wise decision-making and protecting our client’s reputation.

Last week, we attended "Managing Intense Media Scrutiny," a training session in San Francisco hosted by PRSA, and took away some key tactics for handling media and social media relations during a crisis. While there is no one way to handle a crisis, the following seven steps are guidelines to follow when executing on a crisis situation:

  1. Advocate a crisis communications team: Who is included on this team? Example team: strategist, team leader, risk management, HR, PR, legal, spokesperson, expert resources
  2. Gather the facts: What do you know? Have reporters called? Has the story appeared on social media? Has this type of situation happened previously?
  3. Hold a crisis team meeting: Brief the team on the situation and discuss next steps
  4. Write a media statement/holding statement: Include the facts you know at the time. Update as you learn more.
  5. Select crisis communications tactics: Is this a proactive crisis (i.e. threat to public health, safety or property) or a reactive situation (i.e. non threat to public health safety or property; damaging or false information escalates)?
  6. Reach important audiences beyond the media: Change the focus from the media to the most affected by the incident. Lead from the heart.
  7. Prepare your spokespersons: Anticipate questions, develop succinct meaningful answers, hold practice sessions and offer coaching.

Above all else, know that you have time to respond in a crisis. It’s better to wait and communicate the facts rather than move quickly and have to backtrack for communicating the wrong information.