Crisis Communications: How to Deal with a PR Nightmare

Do you have a plan on how to deal with crisis communications in your business? No? Then this post is for you.

What would you do if your company is found to negatively impact the environment? What if an executive makes a poorly received off-color remark? Who responds if your product suffers quality control or supply chain issues? What if the company is under a federal criminal investigation, such as the one recently faced by Theranos’ founder Elizabeth Holmes?

These questions are critically important, but are often ignored by life sciences businesses, ultimately setting their company up to perform poorly during a crisis. No matter what the problem, if it attracts public attention and threatens a company’s reputation or ability to function, it’s a crisis that needs to be addressed quickly and effectively.

In truth, crisis communications take place in three stages: preparation, performance, and aftermath. You need to prepare and have a plan ready to go, perform once the crisis arises, and take stock of the damage in the aftermath.

Part One: Preparation

Most of your crisis communications work can (and should) be done well before there is a crisis. If you don’t have a plan in place, your crisis communications will be frantic.

With a plan already in place, you are free to operate more flexibly. You can put your communications strategy into effect right away, resulting in faster and more considered messaging. At the same time, you’ll have more time and resources available to monitor the media landscape, assess real-time perceptions, and adapt to address new concerns.

Here are seven steps to help you prepare.

  • Anticipate crises: Brainstorm a list of any crisis your company could ever conceivably face
  • Identify your crisis communications team: By selecting a specific team of executives in advance, you reduce delays caused by selection of leaders during a crisis
  • Identify and train spokespeople: Deciding your spokesperson in advance facilitates a swifter response in crisis time – one guaranteed to come from the correct messenger
  • Establish communication systems: How will you communicate in a crisis? Email, text, messaging services, and phone are all viable options, but picking one in advance will allow for a seamlessly coordinated team.
  • Establish monitoring systems: How will you monitor the public response? Designate people to monitor the most significant news channels and respond. Create a plan for monitoring social and traditional media so that you have a clear picture of the public perception of a crisis.
  • Identify stakeholders: Who is most likely to be rattled by a crisis? Craft a list of investors, employees, and other important parties so that you are ready to assuage their concerns
  • Prepare your messaging: You may not have the details of the crisis, but you can prepare holding statements for immediate use once the crisis breaks

Part Two: Performance

Hopefully you’ll never experience a crisis and your preparation will prove unnecessary. If a crisis does occur, you simply need to put your plan into action.

Release your holding statements. Contact your stakeholders. Implement your monitoring plan, and use the feedback to adapt and finalize your prepared messaging.

Crises can be damaging, but your plan will allow you to mitigate that damage and respond as gracefully as possible.

Part Three: Aftermath

Take stock of the damage to your company and your company’s image. Continue monitoring media outlets to determine whether further action is necessary – you may want to take steps to repair your image.

Assess the success of your response. What went well and what failed? How can you improve your crisis communications team for the next potential problem? Answering these questions will better prepare you for similar events in the future.

Everyone hopes that they never experience a crisis, but it pays to expect the unexpected and have a crisis communications plan in place. A well-designed plan can be the difference between a blip of negative press and a full-scale PR disaster.

Have some of your own crisis communication questions? Contact us to start today.