Prepare Today for the Crisis of Tomorrow

Jeannette Bitz
May 21, 2020

Few could have predicted the COVID-19 virus and its impact on the US and the world’s health, the economy, and on small businesses. This unprecedented crisis reminds all of us that you never know when a crisis is going to strike. How a company responds to a situation—whether it’s the company’s fault or not—will determine how that company comes out at the end of any crisis event, even COVID-19. As a long-time PR professional, I have helped many clients avoid and recover from a crisis event from a network outage to the impact of the initial SARs epidemic. PR can play an integral role in helping companies communicate during a crisis while also assisting companies in responding accordingly. Last month, I blogged about how a company should communicate during a time of uncertainty.

While PR cannot prevent a crisis, how a company responds when a crisis strikes can make a difference in your company’s reputation and ultimate success.

A crisis is any situation that immediately threatens to harm people or property, seriously interrupt yours or your customers’ business, damage your reputation, or materially affects your bottom line. It can be something that happens to your company or something your company creates. The one uniting factor? With the news going live almost instantaneously, thanks to Twitter and other social media sites, it requires an immediate and effective response because if mishandled, it has the potential to spin out of control like a tornado.

The bottom line is that when a crisis is in play, you do not have time to waste, and you need to get into action immediately with comprehensive mitigation and crisis management plan. Our clients know we will be on the clock 24/7 if a crisis occurs. Your agency can help you incur the least amount of damage and will be worth their weight in gold when it comes to the guidance, organization, and human resources they will provide. Going it alone might be akin to running into a burning building with no fire gear. Do not even attempt it.

The best advice, while you have the luxury of time, plan. Your PR agency can help you determine your vulnerabilities and establish your crisis communications protocol—no matter how basic. Forethought and a plan will save you. Trying to go it alone will cost you more than just agency fees.

So, what should you expect when you talk to your PR counsel about crisis communications planning?
The first step, assess your vulnerability and identify all the places in your business where you’re exposed. This will give them the scenarios needed to deliver a customized plan, so in the heat of the moment, you will have the tools you need to:

  • Identify levels of the crises
  • Pre-establish internal crisis communications teams, spokespeople and key communication roles
  • Establish notification and monitoring procedures
  • Build a crisis strategy on the fly once the event unfolds
  • Write holding statements with templates and guidelines regarding what to share first.
  • Identify primary and secondary audiences per scenario.
  • Identify channels to communicate.
  • Pinpoint supporters and adversaries
  • Create response plans—involvement and communication strategy by crisis level
  • Develop the tools for meeting team communications needs
  • Determine post-crisis activities (including evaluation, adapting messages)
  • Train internal constituents on crisis communications processes

The fact is, planning comes with both investments of time and money. Burying your head in the sand and believing it will never happen to you is ill-advised. If your company is dealing with either a natural or human-made crisis, you will be scrambling. You will probably experience far more pain and suffering (and at a much higher financial and time investment) than if you had worked through your company’s crisis communications response ahead of time.

Engage PR also recommends integrating a pandemic scenario to your plan and update your crisis plan for the ‘rolling crisis’ we’re all still confronting. We work with our clients to be crisis-prepared and to be in a position where they’re not surprised when the inevitable occurs, and they need to manage a critical situation in the face of increased scrutiny. For them, seeking PR counsel and planning will be unquestionably worth it.

If your company does not have a crisis communications plan or if your plan is outdated, contact Engage PR.


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