Crisis Comms 101: How to handle a PR crisis


Perceptions are everything and in PR – perceptions are the key fundamental drivers of our industry’s worth. Both businesses and individuals are motivated by the desire to influence perceptions with the core purpose to positively elevate their brand image. Its what they pay for and what the public buys into.

A core part of our specialism as PR professionals lies in crisis comms. When reputation management goes wrong, we are the most valuable players in the game of “making it go away”.

Crisis management is not exclusively however, about frantically figuring it out when it happens – but, rather – it is a framework of actions put in place for if it does. It is also pre-empting a crisis before it completely unfolds into a messy set of circumstances.

In order for us to keep our crisis communication skills fierce, we must consistently sharpen our tools and revisit the fundamentals of preparedness. Below, we have identified the key essentials of crisis comms, the “101” of everything you need to know about how to handle an actual PR crisis. We advise to also ensure the below is set in stone within your own comms strategy.

1. Be proactive, take responsibility and apologise first

Before you do anything – Apologise and thank the public for their patience during this time – publically. You may not have all the answers yet but you should still communicate to let your following know you are working on finding out what went wrong and that you are working hard to fix it. The worst thing you can do is ignore a crisis and hope it will go away on its own: idealism is a killer in crisis comms.

2. Start from the beginning

Call an emergency internal meeting and understand the crisis details from your employees and board. Use the key minds in your firm to brainstorm how best to resolve this matter in a manner which is aligned to your brand’s core values. Then seek to understand the public’s perception, their behaviour, their emotions, their thoughts. To handle a crisis you must have a deep understanding of what actually went wrong.

3. Transparency and communication

Humans relate to humans. Be human. Sincere apologies and a well-prepared explanation which addresses all pain points of the crisis is key to its resolve. Address concerns with empathy and with integrity – and most of all make active efforts to rethink your current processes/ strategies. PR is not made to hide flaws, it has been created to bring to light the good. Don’t appear authentic – be authentic.

4. Manage all platforms

Ensure that all your audiences are aware of your proactive approach to handling your crisis across all platforms; online and offline. Work to secure positive pieces of media coverage with reputable journalists, outlets and publications, work to engage positively with your digital community on social media and give your employees an empowering statement to use universally if they are questioned. Control is critical.

5. Create a powerful solution

A crisis can make your firm stronger, if handled in the right manner. Positive reinforcement and well thought-out next steps are crucial to sustain the reputation of a business long-term. From developing CSR initiatives which promote a meaningful cause to publically announcing a change in leadership – how a company bounces back from a crisis is perhaps even more crucial than how it is handled.