How to put together a PR crisis plan

Blogs 15 Jun 2021

From assembling your PR crisis team to communicating effectively with the media, FSB PR and Crisis Management share six important steps for putting together a PR crisis plan.

A PR crisis can happen to any business, new or experienced, from a product recall to a staff injury becoming public news. It’s best to have a plan of action to ensure you’re prepared. PR and Crisis Management experts at the Federation of Small Businesses explain the six steps you need to follow to prepare your business for the unexpected.

1. Identify your PR crisis team

When forming your PR crisis plan, the first thing you should do is identify a PR crisis team. This team should take responsibility for making decisions quickly and effectively should a crisis happen. They should also help spearhead communication to get quick messages out to audiences, such as your customers and the media.   

When putting your crisis team together, it’s a good idea to consider employees in all roles.  This could include the head of the department that might be impacted by a crisis, such as in sales or manufacturing, and staff with experience in PR crisis management.

Depending on the size of your company and how many staff you have available, typical roles in the team should include:

  • The company CEO or MD (crisis management is a test of leadership – it's vital the most senior person in the organisation is seen to be the voice of the business during a crisis, so the CEO or MD should always be the frontline spokesperson fronting up media and stakeholder questioning. It would be ill-advised to delegate this role to a less senior employee or to an external PR representative)
  • Head of communications
  • A copywriter (it is vital to find someone in your team who has the ability to write clear and concise copy)
  • Liaison for audiences, such as for customers to contact and answer their calls
  • Media coverage collector – to gather all coverage of the crisis, such as in newspapers, on television, and online

Each team member should understand their role and make sure they stick to it during a crisis. But it’s important to mention that some roles can be carried out by the same employee. It’s wise to also consider some form of legal support. You should list each person’s role and what it will involve in your plan, along with their contact details.

Brief members of staff not in the crisis management team that they should not speak to any journalist, nor should they make a comment on the issue on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.  Any unguarded comment they might make could greatly exacerbate the situation.

2. Identify possible crisis scenarios

Experiencing a PR crisis can be daunting and overwhelming, so it’s wise to plan ahead with your team and list the different types that might happen. Depending on your business, this could include:

  • An injury to your staff, clients or the public as a result of your business   
  • A quality issue or defect with one of your products
  • A natural disaster that affects or damages your business, like a storm or flood
  • Legal action that is taken against your company by an employee, a client, or customer  

3. List audiences to notify and questions they might ask

There are different types of audiences that you should be prepared to inform and update during a PR crisis. So it’s important to identify them and include any contact details that you have. Audiences can differ depending on your business and the PR crisis itself, but can include:

  • Employees
  • Customers
  • Local or national media
  • People who live close to your business  
  • Government departments and regulators
  • Shareholders or partners

It’s a good idea to put together a list of common questions that each audience group might ask following news of the crisis. For instance, questions from your employees might be about whether or not it’s safe to come to work, while a question from the media might be about what caused an incident and how you’ll prevent it from happening again. Doing this can help you draft template answers, so you’re prepared should such questions be asked.

4. Decide how you will communicate with the media

There are different decisions you should make to ensure you communicate with the media quickly and effectively.

For instance, you should decide whether or not you will notify them with a press release only, or if it will be better to update them with emailed statements, or by holding a press conference. 

You should identify an approvals process, and who will be involved, to make sure all content is factually correct before it’s sent out. It’s also important to consider how you’ll handle media requests to speak to someone other than your CEO/MD, how you will respond to reporters if they come to your business and if you’ll grant them access.

5. Identify your PR crisis command centre

This is a location where your team can gather and work during a PR crisis, allowing your business operation to continue if possible.

The location could be a space on your premises or a suitable location off-site, such as a room in a conference centre. It should be available at short notice and have telephone and internet access. It should also be stocked with materials you’ll probably need, such as paper, pens, clipboards, and a whiteboard.

Your team can make and take calls from here to update your key audiences, such as responding to media requests and updating customers. You can also use this space if you decide to host a press conference.

6. Distribute your plan, test, and prepare

Once you’ve included all key information in your plan you should make copies and distribute it to each member of your PR crisis team. You should make sure they understand it and are fully prepped so they can react and respond to a crisis quickly. This includes making sure your CEO/MD is sufficiently trained to speak to the media.

Test out your plan to see if any areas can be improved and changed to suit your business’s development. The more prepared you and your team are, the better your company’s response will be if a crisis happens.

Affordable PR support you can count on in a crisis

Protect your reputation with FSB PR and Crisis Management. Professional PR advice for small businesses, with specialist crisis communications support and insurance of up to £10,000 in the event of a major public relations crisis.

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