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When it comes to crisis communications, plan for the worst

As a PR pro, it’s your job to proactively manage the way your organization’s brand is represented in the media. You’ve prepared a communications strategy; you’ve established key messaging; you’ve built up a media list and are adapting to the new PR opportunities and challenges of a world dominated by social media. You’re set up for success.

Credit: media-relations.com

But bad things happen, and in a world where media operates in real-time and average people have the power to influence the headlines, all your hard work can be undone in an instant.

It doesn’t have to be. It may seem counterintuitive, but the best way to ensure your brand makes it through a communications crisis intact is to include worst-case scenario planning as part of your overall communications plan. Here are a few tips for how you can plan for the worst:

  • Get your crisis communications team and any other appropriate people together for a brainstorming session. Identify realistic and worst-case scenarios for your brand and then craft key messaging to address them.
  • Consider the ramifications of every potential crisis you’ve identified. Think like the media. Take time to craft a social media specific crisis communications plan.
  • Put a monitoring and notification plan in place. Identify key online influencers, like reporters and bloggers, and monitor them. You should be the first to know if your brand becomes involved in a crisis.
  • Make sure that the appropriate people are informed of how to handle each scenario. Your spokespeople and executives can’t learn key messaging on the fly in the face of a crisis.

Check out this post for more tips on how to anticipate a crisis.

A note on apologies

Thanks to social media, brands have the opportunity to craft brand stories around news items – a strategy David Meerman Scott calls Newsjacking. While this can be an effective strategy, it’s not a great idea to attempt during a crisis.

Epicurious learned that lesson the hard way last week in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings when they used the tragedy as a way to promote recipes. Their tweets were met with public outcry, but that’s not the only warning you should take from this misstep. In response to the uproar, Epicurious issued an apology that some have deemed weak and not timely enough. The other lesson here is the importance of including apology messaging as part of your crisis plan. Check out this PR Daily post for tips for making an apology authentic and effectual.

For a look at what not to do during a crisis, read last week’s post on 3 crisis communications mistakes to avoid, and check out this story on how the City of Hamilton ended up in a PR disaster.

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