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Creating a Public Relations Crisis Communication Plan

In business a crisis can be defined as “any situation that threatens the integrity or reputation of your company, usually brought on by adverse or negative media attention.”

Gosh, that’s a real mouthful. Let’s get real and put this in plain English by going over a few examples.
A product failure, a potential health threat (e.g. lead in toys made in China), or a sexual harassment case made public are all crises no doubt.

As with anything in life, there are always situations for which you simply can’t plan for, but having a basic plan in place before a crisis occurs can mean the difference between building a strong brand with a loyal following and just having another company that doesn’t stand for much of anything good.

So what does a public relations crisis communication plan look like? Here’s a basic introduction:

The design of an effective crisis management plan will vary depending on your organization, but there are certain components of a good plan that will remain consistent:

1. The Crisis Communication Team – Having the right team in place is probably the most critical factor in your plan. Your team should consist, at the very least, of the following:

  • The chief public relations officer – The PR director will be driving the plan, working very closely with the rest of the team.
  • The CEO of the organization – Whatever the approach, make sure the CEO is part of the team and knows everything that is taking place or being said. This can make the difference in whether or not you keep your job.
  • The corporate attorney – While you never want to let the attorneys make the decisions – they are only interested in the legal aspects, not the PR aspects – it is very important to know any possible legal repercussions ahead of time.
  • The senior manager of the division involved in the crisis (once it has surfaced)
  • A secondary team of additional PR staff to answer phones and escort the media when necessary

2. Spokesperson – Often the public relations officer is the spokesperson for the media, but that can vary, depending on who has the greatest knowledge of the situation and at the same time is able to speak confidently and articulately.

3. Roster – The PR officer should have with the plan a hard copy of a roster of everyone even remotely involved and their phone numbers, including home and cell. Crises sometimes rear their ugly heads at very inconvenient times outside of business hours.

4. Emergency Phone Number – This would include fire, police, surrounding hospitals, and media.

5. The Message – The universal rule in PR when dealing with a crisis is respond quickly, honestly and completely. Before going public, you must decide with your team exactly what your message is and make sure everyone is on the same page. Never lie or leave anything out. The media is very adept at getting the truth. And never delay your response. While you are avoiding the media others are very eager to talk to them.

6.Potential Threats – This would list each possible crisis that you can think of and a basic description of how each would be handled.

You’ve likely heard it said before that failure to plan is planning to fail. Nowhere is that more true than in crisis communications and public relations. Having the right people ready to deliver a proper response to any negative situation or crisis is key.

Reference 1: Clawson, Sandra K. Crisis Communication Plan: A PR Blueprint [Online], (Ed. Link no longer works)


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