Prepare your crisis strategy for 2019

A recent headline in PR News shared something we all know, but don't love to admit: "Brands See Risks but Fail to Plan for Them." Sound like the crisis strategy you know you should have in place? 

The crisis strategy with contingencies for everything that could go wrong on top of the crisis itself, like not being able to get ahold of the point person for executing the plan or someone else in the chain of command for approvals, for example. 

Maybe your team does have a plan in place, but that plan is a few years old, or it was put together before you came on. Maybe your team hasn't run through it in a while or discussed the chain of command for approving messaging around a crisis during the holidays when more people will be harder to reach. 

There are many reasons it's time to pull out and dust off your crisis strategy for 2019. We're here to help you make it the very best it can be, so you're prepared for anything that comes your way. 

Preparing a crisis strategy in the era of Digital PR 

Ideally you've done the heavy lifting this year to take stock, tool up, and ramp up your PR strategy in the era of Digital PR. With a tool like TrendKite in your arsenal, your public relations efforts are regularly communicated to executives in a language they understand— without the slow-down of hand-compiling critical data. 

The right tool keeps you ahead of any crisis situation, because you have comprehensive reporting at your fingertips, customized to fit what's most important to you and your brand. 

Any crisis strategy should be a part of a larger PR strategy. If you want to shore up your PR strategy first, you need to organize your PR strategy for impact, setting meaningful metrics. You need to look back and benchmark to measure your efforts going forward. You need to look out and get more selective to be purposeful with your pitches, growing and optimizing your content creator community in the process— from journalists to contributors to social influencers. Finally, you need to look in to align and define to ensure you're using earned media to maximize impact across the PESO model.

That foundation gives you what you need to implement any crisis situation that arises, either as 2018 winds down or 2019 starts gaining momentum. 

Bottom line? You measure to do more of what works and less of what doesn’t. Data helps you make confident decisions, whether the the numbers reveal success or failure. After all, there’s strategy intelligence to be had either way. 

There are power plays in PR 

And we're going to explore them. What PR situations offer power play potential? 

  1. When you spot a possible brand crisis brewing.
  2. When you decide to influence the influencers. 
  3. When you see your competition getting major attention.

In each case, measurement sets you up for success. When PR pros know their value and efficacy and are able to communicate it to the rest of their team using the framework of Digital PR, they are ready to make opportunities and control challenges.

Let's break it down, starting with your crisis communication strategy as part of your larger PR strategy. (Look for more on the other two soon!) 

Your crisis strategy as a power play 

A PR emergency may be self-inflicted (like when Tesla and its CEO Elon Musk had to settle with the SEC over a tweet he made suggesting he was taking the company private) or entirely outside of the company’s control (would you care for a Tide Pod?). No matter what industry you are in or how ethically management behaves, it is possible that your brand will suddenly experience an event that results in bad press, poor reviews, and negative social media mentions. When bad news hits online- especially on social media- it can feel like a wildfire.

Crafting a crisis communication strategy is a bit like installing a smoke detector; you hope you’ll never need it, but will be glad it’s there if you do. For most PR practitioners, potentially devastating news isn’t something you deal with every day, but being prepared to respond is arguably one of PR’s most important responsibilities— particularly in the era of social media virality and insatiable 24/7/365 news cycles. 

Combine this with the critical role of reputation from the brand itself all the way up to the highest person in the company. CEOs are being compensated, judged, and even fired, based on company and brand reputation. This bodes well for the importance of PR, but also puts a lot of pressure on crisis strategy.

With endless examples of poorly handled situations, we all know there’s no hiding from crisis. Better to be prepared, and re-frame your crisis communication strategy as a power play you’re ready to run at the speed of Digital PR. 

First: Prep the play

Disaster time is not the time to start using data. The best PR crisis management strategies start with creating baseline measurements for mentions, sentiment, and social sharing. Be sure to gather PR intelligence when things are calm.

As we touched on earlier: Set benchmarks. Define topics important to your brand. Monitor your brand’s place in the conversation. These metrics will also help manage a bad situation. The best way to notice when something has changed is to understand PR metrics that matter and track them over time.

Next, put on your PR practitioner hat and ask: What are the possible forms crisis could take for your business? Brainstorm to gather ideas on possible crisis events.


  • Crises that have already occurred in your industry.
  • Potential ethical or legal pitfalls in your business.
  • Possible risky employee or stakeholder actions.
  • Product shortages, accidents, defects, or recalls.
  • Business growth, churn, labor relations, or executive turnover.
  • Events beyond human control (weather, fire, world events).

Once you’ve gathered your crisis concepts, brainstorm the language journalists would use to cover such events. These will become your “crisis terms” — terms you can use to monitor for trouble and search for crisis coverage.

Finally, set up your crisis strategy people and processes. Any internal bottleneck that impedes decision-making or the flow of communication is detrimental during a crisis. Before crisis hits, among other things, you need to answer the following questions:

  • Who will be on the crisis comms call list?
  • Who will be our key spokespeople and who are our subject matter experts?
  • If any one of the people we have listed is unreachable, who do we turn to next? 
  • Are there external influencers or brand advocates we can turn to for help?
  • What channels will we use to reach customers, investors, or critical external constituencies?
  • What are our communications guidelines and who is responsible for enforcing them?
  • What are the approval processes for crisis announcements?

Again, before there’s a crisis: Ensure that your executives — including your crisis comms team — understand the PR metrics that matter, and are accustomed to consuming timely PR reports to assess brand reputation and more.

Agreement about what to measure and why it matters will be invaluable under crisis pressure when decisions have to be made quickly. 

What's next? 

We'll talk about running the play, assessing the play, and go through a real-world example. 

Need more now? Check out our crisis strategy resource page, with everything you need before you need it. 

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About Sarah Parker

Sarah A. Parker is the Content Marketing Manager for Cision, planning, producing and curating content across channels. She previously managed content and social media for several different brands, in addition to working as a freelance writer. Find her on Twitter @SparkerWorks where she is happy to talk all things social media strategy, the dynamic world of PR, and mastiffs.