Is Your Firm Ready?

5 Steps to Planning for Effective PR Crisis Management

Whenever something happens in the news that impacts your business, either positively or negatively, your company has an opportunity. Today’s marketing department needs to have a real time mindset to be able to react when news occurs according to David Meerman Scott, whose latest book, Real-time Marketing and PR was just published. (His earlier book, The New Rules of Marketing and PR is part of my Social Media Resource list.) Further since all kinds of things happen unexpectedly, it’s important to have an up-to-date crisis management plan in place.

To this end, here are five points to help you develop a flexible crisis management plan because, without the ability to quickly mobilize the appropriate staff and other resources, the crisis can easily escalate beyond the level necessary. Here are my recommendations:

  1. Have listening and/or social media monitoring tools in place. These analytical instruments can provide critical information regarding how prospects, customers and the general public are reacting to and talking about your brands and/or company. It’s important to pay attention when the tone and content of the conversation changes. Scott recommends incorporating company data analysis that monitors the combination of social media activity with real time news and website and other company related volumes.
  2. Need to have the appropriate personnel plugged in across your organization. This group must work together as a team both internally and externally. This includes senior executives and their assistants, human resources, legal, marketing, customer services, PR or marketing communications, technology, website support, investor relations (if your firm is publically traded) and customer facing jobs like retail and sales. There must be a list of electronic as well as voice contact information, including off hours contact numbers.
  3. Create a process to enable people, especially senior management and PR, to react quickly regardless of the day and time since crises can happen on holidays or weekends. Further, there should be an understanding of how decisions will be made and whose approval is needed.
  4. Have a relationship with an outside crisis management or PR firm to help support your efforts during a crisis. This decision should be made before a crisis occurs to allow sufficient time to line up a qualified firm. As part of the RFP process, make sure to find what they’ll do in the event of a crisis. Who do you contact? Who will do the actual work? Since there’s good chance that this will be high profile, you probably don’t want a new hire answering your CEO’s questions on Saturday night. What type of response turnaround can you expect? Who can they give as references? You want to talk to clients who have had a crisis that the firm handled. How involved are they in reputation management and social media? Do you feel that you can work with them?
  5. Review the plan regularly to ensure that staff members are aware of their responsibilities and know who to contact. Update your lists as people leave and join the firm. While this sounds obvious, like fire drills, staff may not consider this important until there’s an issue.

When it comes to crisis management, it always pays to “Be prepared”. This will help you to stay ahead of most adverse news.

If you’ve any suggestions you’d like to share, please add them in the comments section below.

Happy marketing,
Heidi Cohen

Photo credit: Jon_Marshall via Flickr

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11 Responses to Is Your Firm Ready?

  1. it’s important to remember that social media channels need to be addressed through an enterprise crisis communications plan. As someone who has developed and executed crisis plans in an agency and in-house environments – having clear, consistent messages is a critical hurdle in overcoming the crisis. The social media component – executed correctly – can greatly enhance the company’s response and reputation.

  2. Sally Falkow says:

    Hello Heidi, Crisis planning is needed now more than ever. Your five points are great. I’d add that you should build a community of loyal fans. You should do this anyway, but it is also part of your crisis planning. Having a loyal base of supporters can be invaluable if a crisis occurs.

    • Heidi Cohen says:

      Sally, Having a community of loyal supporters is a great point since they can help mitigate negative comments. The internal challenge is getting management and marketing to see this as a benefit for potential crises versus achieving on-going revenue goals. Happy Marketing, Heidi Cohen

  3. Melanie says:

    We just learned about crisis communication and management in my PR class last week. The one thing we didn’t talk about was keeping the list current and updated at all times. You don’t need it until you need it, and I’m a huge fan of being prepared for anything (I think it comes from being the daughter of an Eagle Scout). Keeping everyone up to date of the plan and staying in communication with the top executives is also a great idea.

    We talked in class about having a Crisis Management Kit ( which sounds similar to your first point. It’s great to know that the stuff I’m learning will be useful in the future.

    Thanks for posting!

    • Heidi Cohen says:

      Melanie–Thank you for commenting. Crisis management is very important, especially in today’s social media world where one comment or action can spark a fire storm. While many firms have plans in the event of a crisis, they overlook the need to have lists and responsibilities for putting such a plan in place up-to-date. It’s no different than any other form of emergency planning. Good luck with your studies. Happy marketing, Heidi Cohen

  4. Jill says:

    Good advice. It definitely pays to be prepared and to know what’s being said about your company. Thanks Heidi!

  5. J.D. says:

    Thanks, Heidi. I wrote a blog post on this a while back and it could be useful for your readership (this is part one of a two part series):

    • Heidi Cohen says:

      JD-With the growth of social media, everyone is starting to be concerned with having a crisis plan ready. Thank you for the reference. Happy marketing, Heidi Cohen

  6. Worob says:

    This was very helpful, Heidi. Been getting a lot of questions lately about crisis comms and it’s great to have resources such as this article.

    PR at Sunrise (

    • Heidi Cohen says:

      Worob-I think that more and more people will be asking about crisis communications. Are there any issues that they need covered? Happy marketing, Heidi Cohen