Apr 22, 2016

Top 3 Things to Resolve Before a Crisis Strikes


Accidents and mistakes are part of being human. You cannot get through life without tripping and skimming your knee at least once, and you will disappoint someone at some point by forgetting something.

Equally, a business cannot exist that does not face crises now and then.

Mistakes, misunderstandings, accidents, product failures, and employee misconduct are all risks that businesses face regularly. Although they’re nearly impossible to avoid, they can be managed.

If your business is well prepared and vigilant, you can foresee potential risks and prevent many of them from escalating into major crises. If managed especially well, few outside your crisis response team will even know something happened.

A carefully compiled crisis communications guide can literally save your business when the inevitable occurs.

The key to remember is that there’s no universal crisis handbook you can order and put on your shelf.

Every business is different and what needs to be in your response plan will require careful research, documentation, and frequent revision. It must also be flexible and evolve with your business.

If you’re feeling a little anxious because you don’t have an up-to-date crisis guide, it’s ok. During PR Newswire’s April 27th webinar Navigating a Crisis: Top Tips on How to Protect your Reputation, we’ll share top crisis communications firms’ advice for handling crises and protecting the brand reputation you’ve worked so hard to develop.

In the meantime, though, here are three steps to take right now that will kick-start your planning before a crisis strikes.

List Your Vulnerabilities

The only way to be prepared for a crisis, or perhaps avoid one altogether, is to have an understanding of the types of crises you might face.

This list will be unique for every business.

For example, if your business requires employees to use dangerous machinery or chemicals, your risks will differ from those of a business dealing with online sales.

Some general risks to start with include: systems outages (order processing or email), product failure, human error, dissatisfied customer reviews or social posts, employee misconduct, lawsuits, and communications faux pas.

Furthermore, look at any crises you dealt with in the past. While you may have permanently resolved some of them, there are others that will likely pop up again.

After making your initial list, group vulnerabilities into types such as Personnel, Customer, Legal, Financial, etc. Ensure the list is as thorough as possible by collaborating with key parties in your business who have other perspectives to add.

Chart Your Critical Contacts

When a crisis hits, you need to immediately get the word out to the right people across your organization. That means knowing – in advance – whom to inform.

Create a chart listing the key contacts in the event of a crisis. Start at the top of your company and then categorize people into escalation groups.

List those who should always be informed immediately, such as your head of communications (perhaps that’s you). Then, categorize other essential people who may need to be involved on a situational basis, like your legal team, senior executives, heads of information security and IT, sales leaders, etc.

Although your list of contacts must be thorough, you should be judicious when involving people during the actual crisis. You want to take as few people as possible away from their daily work. Plan well, but carefully select the response team based on needs.

Audit Your Communications Channels

With certain crises, you will need to halt your usual daily chatter on social media or post an update on your website’s homepage. It’s important to know how to make that happen quickly.

Most companies have multiple — if not dozens or even hundreds of — social media accounts, websites, customer lists, vendor lists, partner lists, media lists, and other public-facing communications channels.

You’ll want to work with the people you normally trust on these channels to respond to questions and post information. Don’t replace them with a senior spokesperson who is unfamiliar with the nuances of your channels and their audiences.

Compile a list of all of your current communications channels, as well as the key contacts for those channels. You don’t need to hold all the passwords (those change), but you do need to know whom to contact.

If you’ve prepared ahead of time, everyone will know exactly what procedures to follow and you won’t find yourself scrambling at the last minute. Don’t forget, though:

Every crisis communications plan needs a backup plan.

If you have one person in your business who manages all your social channels and holds the passwords, ensure they have a well-informed backup who can handle situations when they’re camping with no cell reception in the Smokey Mountains.

Bonus Tip: Regularly Revisit the Plan

Information gets outdated very quickly. Set a schedule to re-audit your vulnerabilities, key contacts, and communications channels frequently.

This can be time-consuming and difficult to stay on top of so be sure to share the burden.

Everyone who manages a responsibility or channel should be responsible for keeping others up to date on access information and personnel changes.

Also, remember that there is no better time to update your crisis guide than right after each crisis. As communicators, we learn something from every incident that will make the process of managing a crisis easier ‘next time.’

These three things are a great place to start with your crisis communications plan, but don’t stop there! Keep the momentum going and build it out. It may not happen all at once. In fact, it should grow and evolve as your business ages and you learn from future crises.

Learn more about planning and executing a crisis communication plan during PR Newswire’s next webinar Navigating a Crisis: Top Tips on How to Protect your Reputation on Wednesday, April 27 at 1 PM ET.


During this presentation, Karen Doyne, Managing Director and Leader U.S. Crisis Practice at Burson-Marsteller, and Patrick Hillmann, Senior Vice President at LEVICK, will discuss:

  • How to get internal and external stakeholders aligned on your brand’s message
  • What to do during the onset of a crisis
  • How to monitor perception and sentiment throughout a crisis

Click here to register and follow @PRNewswire and our webinar hashtag #navigatecrisis during the live tweeting session.

Author Victoria Harres is vice president, strategic communications and content at PR Newswire. Her team leads social media, PR, creative and blogging for the brand. Vicky was the original twitterer on @PRNewswire and continues to be part of that crew. If she’s not at her desk, you’ll likely find her in the garden.

3 Comments on Blog Post Title

­ John Carston 09:17 EDT on Jun 6, 2016

I Like the advice you’ve given for managing communications during a business crises. I’ll have to follow your advice and make a list of vulnerabilities, making a list of contacts of those who would to be informed quickly, audit communication channels and make a plan for such events and revisit them often. This should make everything go much faster in a crisis if I choose to, or don’t have a PR firm at the time. Thanks for the helpful tips.

Victoria Harres 14:31 EDT on Jun 6, 2016

Thanks for reading John! I’m glad you found my recommendations useful. — Vicky

­ Sarah Lee 13:58 EDT on Jun 25, 2016

Thank you for the pointers. We can never go wrong by being prepared. We hear this so often, "he who fails to plan, plans to fail," and it is so true. These tips are really helpful for me as I manage projects in business.

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