INTRODUCTION TO CRISIS MANAGEMENT
• Thinking about what type of crisis could materialise
• Definition of an issue and a crisis
• What goes wrong when there’s a crisis
• Identifying the key individuals
• Forming a crisis management team
• Managing internal communications
• Managing external communications
• Crisis Management Checklist
Thinking about what type of crisis could materialise amongst the client
A comprehensive public relations programme should include crisis planning as a
core module. The plans may never have to be used, but when a genuine crisis
does emerge it will be extremely helpful to have an outline plan to fall back upon.
The planning needs to be undertaken in conjunction with the client, even if they
are reluctant to engage, or fail to see the relevance.
In all likelihood it should be possible to think about most of the crisis scenarios
likely to impact upon each of your clients. It is also sensible to ask each of your
clients to tell you about any crisis situations they may have encountered in the
past. This discussion should include information on how the crisis unfolded,
mistakes made, and lessons learnt. From that experience it should be possible to
build more resolute plans for the future.
Definition of an issue and a crisis
It is important to make a distinction between an issue, which we might define
here as being a short term event likely to pass in a period of time, and a crisis,
which is a series of events that could inflict permanent damage if it is
Clearly in a crisis situation time is of the essence. That’s why it’s essential that
basic materials are always kept up to date as a matter of best practice. Basic
press material in the form of a press briefing document, pictures of senior
management and the main offices need to be up to date.
It would also be sensible to discuss the composition of a future crisis
management team before a crisis has arisen!
Create a crisis management team emergency folder which contains all numbers
(landline & mobile) for all key staff, local media, all emergency services and ties
into their press rooms. Don't forget that some crises are financial so accurate
facts and figures are important as are observing Stock Exchange rulings.
What goes wrong when there’s a crisis
In many cases it can be hard for a client to admit to a crisis. There might be a
tendency to hope that the situation will resolve itself of its own accord, or that it
will pass by unnoticed. There may be reluctance on the part of the client to admit
to the situation for fear of repercussions from above. At this point it is important
for a good consultant to be politely insistent that the situation needs to be
addressed. In most cases a client will realise that the penalties for failing to act
are likely to be far more severe than behaving as a responsible corporate citizen.
It’s easy in this kind of situation for false information and rumour to gain currency.
In the early stages of a potential crisis it is important to assume nothing. The key
action here is to establish who is the key information carrier, and to speak to that
person directly to establish a single version of the truth.
Failure to inform
What can often happen in a crisis situation is that the group involved in managing
the situation fails to think about who needs to be involved managing the situation.
In many cases, for example, the reception team is last to know what’s going on,
and first to receive contact from the outside world.
Thus it’s important that all front of house staff are notified that a situation is being
investigated, and that they might receive calls from various stakeholders. The
front of house team needs to be briefed on what to say, or what not to say, and to
take appropriate details of callers, the nature of their call, and their contact
details. Then a system needs to be devised to ensure that callers are responded
to in a timely manner. In many cases a reported crisis may prove to be a false
alarm. It’s important that callers are contacted to relay this information too.
The same thought process needs to apply to remote, field based staff. There are
few things more destabilising for staff working in the field than to be asked by a
customer, for example, about a situation of which they have no knowledge. In
these days of instant communication via email and mobile phones this really is
very bad practice and represents poor public relations. Ideally all staff will be
issued with a suitable holding statement while a more detailed response is being
Identifying the key individuals
Denial can be a very real issue in these situations. There can be a tendency for
people to deny that the company is facing a crisis. Thus it is critical for the key
individuals in the process to be identified. The Chief Executive has to be
involved, as he or she has the ultimate responsibility for the reputation of the
company. The high profile involvement of the Chief Executive should also ensure
that appropriate focus is given to the situation.
It may sound like an obvious point, but a crisis doesn’t necessarily arise at a nice
convenient point in the working week when everyone is available. It may emerge
in the middle of Saturday night. Thus it is crucial that all hours contact information
for all key individuals is readily available as a matter of good practice.
Forming a crisis management team
The formation of a crisis management team ensures that decision making and
planning is given a clear focus. The composition of the team will vary depending
on the nature of the crisis, but is almost certain to require:
Chief Executive Responsible for ultimate decision making
Key Operational Manager Responsible for tracking the progress of the
crisis and monitoring developments
Key External Spokesperson Responsible for relations with external
stakeholders, including the media
Key Internal Spokesperson Responsible for relations with staff and other
Managing internal communications
In considering internal communications we need to consider all levels of the
company, from the Board to the Reception team, and all parts of the company,
from head office to the regions.
Bearing this in mind communications need to be regular and clear. If your client
has a number of regional offices it would be helpful to work more directly with a
named individual in each regional office.
Managing external communications
We all know that journalists can be both insistent and demanding when they feel
that they are being denied access to a story. Thus it is critical that the
communications team thinks carefully about what it is prepared to say. In the
initial stages of a crisis, real or imagined, it is sensible to produce a holding
Acme is aware of the allegations in relation to the case in question. At this stage
we are talking to a number of parties to establish the facts, and until we have
done that we are unable to provide any further information. We will provide
updates just as soon as the facts of the case have been established.
It is also sensible at this stage to decide which individual is to handle media
enquiries. Best practice dictates that this should be one person to ensure a
consistent presentation to the outside world.
Crisis Management Checklist
1. Prepare for a crisis before a crisis.
2. Develop a crisis management team emergency folder. Check it’s
up to date regularly.
3. Assume nothing. Establish the facts first.
4. Prepare holding statements for front of house staff
5. Establish contact with the source of the information quickly
6. Brief senior members of staff quickly
7. Appoint a key press spokesman
8. Form a crisis management team
9. Continue to communicate as events unfold
10. Evaluate want went well, what didn’t go so well, and what might
be done better in the future, sooner rather than later.