Corporate Risk, Issues & Crisis

March 16, 2017

5 ways to prevent a PR crisis


Written by Meridith Bridge (Corporate, New York)  Andrew Vincent and Jen Horsman (Business Resilience, UK)

In business and in life, crisis situations can and do happen. Usually, when we least expect it. Unfortunately, no-one is immune. What can make or break your company is how, as a business and as a leader, you prepare for and potentially deal with what is thrown at you.

Companies big and small all deal with a crisis at some point. Whether it be being called out in a “bully tweet” by the U.S President, whose tweets may have a serious impact on the stock value of a Fortune 500, a rant from an unhappy customer, or handing the wrong envelope to an announcer, a crisis can have a rapid and far-reaching impact.

While the scenario may vary, the one constant is being prepared. Creating a crisis management manual that can be tailored to any situation, before one potentially arises, is a key starting point. Other elements are:

  1. Consider any and all potential risks that your business faces. 

Ask where your company is vulnerable? What are the weak points? Who may be pointing the finger in your direction? Why may your business be targeted? With this information you can develop a risk register for your business and implement effective mitigation plans for those high priority risks.

  1. Know your stakeholders and key influencers.

This includes employees, customers, investors, government officials and competitors. Also consider those who aren’t direct stakeholders, but may become ones in a crisis.Proactively engage with your stakeholders in peacetime; encourage collaboration and make sure the channels of dialogue are open before a crisis hits. Where appropriate, reach out to your key stakeholders – spend the time getting to know them before any situation arises so that they become your advocates and know and understand your business, your employees, and your strategy and goals.

  1. Put a crisis management team together, now. 

Team members may include management, board members, legal, security, customer service, social media, marketing & communications, HR, and technology. Everyone on the team should be familiar with your crisis management manual, understand their role and be able to work together to quickly assess the situation, decide what actions need to be taken to resolve the incident and determine who is responsible for each action.

  1. Be ready to respond to the situation, in a timely manner.

Communication is a vital aspect of crisis management, and often determines how people initially react to the situation. When communicating, you should always follow the three C’s of crisis communication: concern, commitment and control. Initially when a crisis strikes, you should prepare a holding statement which addresses the situation at hand, showing your concern for those involved. You should then state your commitment to resolving the issue, and demonstrate control in the handling of the crisis. This initial holding statement will give you time to conduct further investigations, enabling you to update your stakeholders with more information at regular intervals. It’s okay to say that you don’t have all of the answers yet – stakeholders value the truth. Any statement made should be succinct and purposeful, addressing the immediate issue that is of greatest importance to your stakeholders.Don’t expand or over-respond.And most importantly, don’t put your head in the sand – get out there. Effective communication will enable you to rebuild trust amongst your stakeholders and demonstrate your business’ core values.

  1. Conduct a post-crisis review.

Once the crisis has been resolved, all those directly involved in its management should attend a post-crisis review meeting, ideally within a week of the intense period of activity being over. Here, you will be able to review what went well and what could be improved upon, and it may result in new policies or procedures being developed to better prepare your company to handle a crisis going forwards.

Developing a crisis management manual, which enables you to handle a crisis quickly and effectively, can mean the difference between a company coming to ruins and one that is in the spotlight for a short moment.  You can always hope for the best, but should prepare for the worst.