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Don't Freak Out, Just Communicate - How to Use Public Relations in a Crisis

A crisis can come in any shape or form. They can be as large and unique as a global pandemic or as small as a misspelled word on a press release. The thing about a crisis is you rarely know what is going to set off the firestorm or where it’s going to come from. But you can and should be prepared to handle a crisis when it inevitably occurs.


Crisis communication is an area of public relations that is often overlooked, yet it should be an important part of your strategy. If you don’t make a plan for how you are going to handle a crisis, chances are, you will be the one with egg on your face at the end. Consider these tips as you review or build your business’s crisis communication plan.


One thing to keep in mind during a crisis is that the situation will be ever evolving – what you thought you knew at the beginning of the crisis, often is not what you will learn by the end of the crisis. Keep that in mind as you craft your communication plan and plan to be adaptable. While you should have a framework for your actions, it’s important to allow yourself time to breathe, gather intelligence and respond accordingly rather than respond hastily or irrationally. The key here is that you respond and that you respond appropriately. This means it’s important to actually address a crisis. Ignoring it is rarely, if ever, advisable.


Which brings up another point; when to respond? The key here is that you respond appropriately. This means it’s important to actually address a crisis (ignoring it is rarely, if ever, advisable) but you don’t necessarily have to be the first., you don’t want to look as if you responded simply because outside pressures forced you to.


The subject of the crisis will dictate the tone of your response. A few good things to keep in mind on what to say are:

  • Be humble (showing that you are human and are going to make mistakes is a good thing).
  • Be clear, concise, and honest.
  • State the facts as you know them (be clear on what happened, how it happened, etc.).
    • Offer a timeline of events if needed
    • Acknowledge that as facts change you will respond accordingly.
  • Be transparent and state your intentions on addressing the crisis.
  • Inform when you will provide the next update.
  • Provide clear direction on where, when, how and whom to contact for additional information (on social media, news releases, emails, website updates, etc.)
  • Apologize appropriately. It’s always good to acknowledge that this crisis has caused others strife. Recognize that. Apologize for it and be sincere.


Another important point in crisis communication is to know your audience. Remember your core audience? You absolutely need to keep them top of mind during the crisis. Your loyal clients/customers will serve as your ambassadors. If you’re careful to take care of your audience, they can help spread your message and could extinguish any additional fires before they even get to you.


Last but not least, assign roles. While you’re mapping the steps and/or tasks in your crisis communication plan, be sure to include who is responsible for that action item. Who is going to be your point person in addressing the public? Who, in the chain of command, needs to be alerted to the crisis and who will take on that task? Don’t forget about internal communications. How will you address your employees? Who will address the employees? These are all key points to have mapped out on your crisis plan.


A crisis can be a stressful time. It can put a strain on any business. However, going into business thinking a crisis won’t happen is unwise. Creating a plan on how you will handle a crisis, using these tips, will help ease tension, keep your audience informed and will help you weather the storm.