A Guide to Crisis Management & Crisis Communications

Our team of online crisis management experts will help you control the narrative and mitigate the damage to your reputation.

What is Crisis Management?

Crisis management is a professional reputation management strategy that mitigates the damage caused by a public relations crisis. Crises like these often arrive unexpectedly, and when they do, online coverage spreads rapidly. News may go viral, including published content that is misleading, exaggerated, or intentionally falsified. The spread and endorsement of fake news has become a modern online epidemic, resulting in an increasingly misinformed general public. Whether you’re in crisis or not, it’s crucial to have an elite team in place who knows how to properly expand and improve your digital footprint, as well as implement a strategy to handle emergency situations with discretion and effectiveness.

Crisis Management in Eight Steps

1. Develop a plan

The most important tenet of crisis management is that it’s vital to have a plan in place before a crisis hits. Time is of the essence when it comes to a PR crisis, and most crises, by their nature, come with very little advance warning. The more work you do ahead of time, the better positioned you’ll be to adapt to the specifics of a given crisis.

Components of a Crisis Communications Plan

  • Defining a crisis: Your organization needs to clearly define what actually constitutes a crisis and what merits a crisis response.
  • Initial messaging: Before the full details of a crisis are apparent, you’ll need to issue a holding statement. You’ll need to fill in details specific to an individual crisis, but creating the framework ahead of time will allow your crisis communications team to quickly and effectively respond to unfolding events.
  • Clearly defined roles: Everyone needs to know exactly what their role is ahead of time, including who’s taking ownership of the crisis response, what higher-ups are expected to be the public face of the company, etc.
  • Clear action plan: Agility in a crisis is invaluable since the situation is so fluid, but it must be founded on a clear set of steps to take. That action plan is a foundation, not a prescription, and can and should be adapted as the situation warrants.

2. Control the controllables

By its nature, a crisis exists outside of your control. All the more reason to control what you can ahead of time so you’re prepared when something does arise. This takes a variety of forms: building out your owned web properties to ensure that you retain as much control of your brand image as possible; developing an ally network who can be leveraged before a crisis hits; and ensuring your crisis management plan is in place, ready to execute at a moment’s notice.

3. Build a crisis response team

Having the right people on a crisis response team–including key executives, PR professionals and social media experts–is critical, as is identifying the spokesperson or -people who will be speaking for your company or organization. An external partner is often helpful, as they can bring expertise you may not have in-house, such as online reputation management and SEO. They can also help train your spokespeople in crisis communications, and assist you in developing and executing your plan.

4. Understand how to reach people

When a crisis hits, you’ll have to respond through a variety of channels—from PR to social media to your customer email list—in order to get your message to the right people. Neglecting any of these channels can hamstring a crisis management effort, allowing bad news to spread unchecked.

5. Build a network of advocates

You can develop the right crisis messaging, but you’re dependent on other people to distribute it. Just as you must understand what channels to distribute your message, you need to cultivate groups of people who can help amplify it in response to a breaking crisis. These include:

Public relations network

Your PR network of journalists is critical for getting your crisis response out to the largest audience possible, especially if your crisis is playing out in the national media.

Ally network

Equally important is a network of allies who can come to your defense. This might include nonprofits or foundations where you have an active role, educational institutions, satisfied customers, and influential voices in your space with whom you’ve built a positive relationship.

Your own employees

Don’t overlook your own employees–each and every one of them can serve as an advocate for you. They need to know how to respond to a crisis, what questions they’re authorized to respond to, and who to refer questions to.

6. Anticipate crises/monitor the conversation

While it’s possible for a crisis to hit with no warning whatsoever, depending on the type of crisis you’ll likely have some sense of what’s coming, especially if it’s rooted in something internal, such as a poor earnings report or an upcoming layoff. Actively monitoring social networks and mentions of your brand, as well as the responses your customer satisfaction department is receiving, can help you anticipate a crisis as it bubbles up from the grassroots level, and perhaps fix the underlying issue before it becomes a full-blown crisis.

7. Rapid response/be proactive

Once the genie’s out of the bottle, it’s incredibly difficult to put back in–but rapid response to an emerging crisis is essential to blunting its impact. The longer a story is out in the world, the more time it has to take root and spread unchecked. If you’ve planned properly, it may be possible to proactively respond to an imminent crisis before it breaks, giving you more control of the narrative.

8. Keep stakeholders informed

It’s critical that stakeholders, such as your employees, customers, and investors, are up-to-date on your response to a crisis–and that they hear it from you, rather than the news.

Let’s Get Started

With the right crisis management team, recovery is not only possible, but your online reputation can be stronger and more secure than it ever was before.

How A Crisis Happens

A crisis can come from any number of sources. In many cases, the worst crises aren’t the fault of anybody at your company–a reporter may get the facts wrong, a rival may plant a false story about your company or its executives, or a quote may be misinterpreted or taken out of context. With a national media desperate for viewers and a pervasive internet “gotcha” culture, what seems to be a small issue can quickly spiral out of control.

Types of Crises

  • A defective or recalled product: How you handle issues with a product can be the difference between a full-blown crisis and a blip on the radar.
  • Bad or criminal acts by an employee: Social media allows bad behavior, crimes, or offensive or insensitive statements by an employee to quickly spread, engulfing your brand in scandal based on the actions of one individual.
  • Personal scandals: A scandal that affects an executive, board member, or owner can dominate the headlines related to your brand.
  • Supplier business practices: Even if you were unaware of them, unethical or criminal practices by a supplier can reflect badly on your brand, especially if you fail to react quickly.
  • Layoffs: An unfortunate reality of business, large layoffs can reflect poorly on your company if you don’t plan for how to deal with the fallout.
  • False or misreported news story: Face it, reporters get things wrong. But once a story gets picked up across other news outlets, even a retraction or correction to the original story won’t change things.
  • Lawsuits: Regardless of the merit or outcome, a high-profile lawsuit that makes its way into the press can be damaging on all sides.
  • Bankruptcy or failed business venture: Failure of a past business venture can affect your prospects in the present.

The Three Stages of a Crisis

1. Pre-crisis

The most important time for crisis management is before the crisis hits–when you develop your plan and identify and train your team. This is the time to take control of your digital footprint, ensuring you control as much of the search landscape associated with your brand as possible. It is in laying this groundwork that a comprehensive, proactive reputation management plan is highly effective. The more work you put in ahead of time, the more avenues you’ll control in the event of a crisis to distribute your messaging and control the narrative.

2. Imminent or breaking crisis

If you’re fortunate, you’ll have a brief window of time when you know a crisis is coming but it hasn’t yet broken. This time is critical–your chance to deploy your crisis management team, begin executing your plan, and proactively get your message out to stakeholders, employees, and your network of brand advocates.

3. Ongoing crisis

As a crisis develops, it’s critical to adapt your messaging to its changing nature, while executing a comprehensive reputation management strategy. Even if you successfully mitigate the immediate impact of a crisis, the aftereffects can linger for years, appearing whenever someone searches for your name or your brand. A long-term reputation management strategy is critical to retaking control of the search landscape associated with your brand.

Where Crises Happen

Crises arise when negative content stemming from a news cycle, social media post, community forum or review quickly appears in Google search results and gains viral traction. While an immediate crisis communications plan is essential to help ward off a developing threat, a long term plan is needed to push back against or reclaim search real estate from negative content that can gain a foothold in Google search results and the advanced search landscape and linger for years.

1. Media outlets

Traditional media coverage as part of a news cycle (newspapers, TV, etc) quickly metastasizes online, appearing in Google News and in the standard Google organic web results.

2. Social media

The level with which new content is engaged by social media users can play a role in where it appears within Google search. As a crisis spreads virally across Twitter or other platforms, it can solidify associated content in Google search that is hard to dislodge.

3. Community pages

Similar to social media, user activity on community pages or forums such as Wikipedia can affect the level of impact a crisis situation has for your image online.  Not only do these platforms have ranking potential among standard organic web results but content from these types of sources are often pulled into areas of the Google search landscape, earning them greater visibility.

4. Review platforms

Adverse user reviews may spark a crisis situation or perpetuate an existing issue sourced from elsewhere, as many take crisis situations as an opportunity to flood a brand’s review pages with negative or defamatory content. Reviews and star ratings are typically pulled into Google search in prominent locations, meaning a surge of poor reviews can cause lasting damage to your bottom line.

Our Approach to Crisis Management

Our team has over 15 years of experience handling the digitally publicized crises of high profile individuals and some of the world’s most successful companies. With the right combination of people, tools, and expertise, we not only remedy past and current situations—we protect your reputation against future unknowns.

Our Approach

  • Communication

    We are dedicated to conducting our service with transparency and stay in as much communication as you prefer about the things you care about most.

  • Discretion

    We operate on your behalf with complete discretion and confidentiality.

  • Attention

    We’ve crafted a white-glove service that ensures your needs are unobtrusively attended to around the clock.

Our Technology

Our proprietary software, Chorus, lets us quickly identify and act on new opportunities and threats to your digital footprint. Chorus delivers a thorough analysis of your digital presence, allowing us to track your search results, monitor changes over time, and craft the most effective approach to defending and building your online reputation.

Where We Operate

With high-profile clients from around the globe and unprecedented knowledge of search landscapes worldwide, we are the leading provider of international reputation management.

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