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How To Create a Three-Step PR Crisis Plan

A customer made waves recently by bashing a brand with promoted tweets.

It’s a new form of PR crisis, but a well-prepared business would have anticipated it before it happened, says Ike Pigott.

PR Crisis Plan - British Airways

Ike should know. Prior to his current role as spokesman for Alabama Power, he was Director of Communications and Government Relations with the Red Cross. He also runs his own business that teaches organizations how to prepare for crises and and mitigate them.

We asked Ike to outline a PR crisis plan that would work for all businesses. He gave us this three-step model that prepares businesses to respond effectively, no matter what happens.

1, Build a threat matrix

A company knows the critical drivers of its business. A threat matrix helps address the financial or operational threats they may face.

To create a threat matrix, list the factors that threaten your business drivers, then calculate how likely each threat is to occur.

Often, brands miss a critical third step.

“You forecast what would be the damage of ‘X’ happening today and what is the likelihood of ‘X’ happening today,” Ike says. “Then you ask what would be the damage five years from now of ‘X’ and what is the likelihood five years from now for ‘X.’

“If you don’t do that third step, you miss emerging threats.”

Forecasting the future may sound difficult, but it’s easy if you don’t get bogged down in specifics.

For example, a brand victimized by a customer’s promoted tweets could have identified that threat five years ago, because of Google ads.

Promoted tweets didn’t exist until 2010, but a customer using Google ads could have created a similar problem.

Brands also could have identified online ad buying as a potential threat. As technologies become more familiar, prevalent and inexpensive, they also become more accessible, Ike says.

2. Assign roles and keep everyone in the room

Crisis Communications Team

Members of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Response Communications Team practice crisis communications.

Before a crisis breaks out, everyone in the corporation should know their role and responsibilities. The real danger comes when someone jumps outside their role.

When creating your threat matrix, determine the most appropriate person to speak on the crisis.

The person who addresses the issue depends on the incident and the reaction. Does the crisis affect a single franchise, region or the entire company? If an employee is suspended or fired, who should speak about that?

Once roles are assigned, develop a process for dealing with a PR crisis quickly.

“If you’re in such a precarious position that you have to get messages out quickly, you can’t have someone wielding veto power in a different state,” Ike says. “You need to be a nimble organization that can address new rumors as they arrive.”

If an executive insists on signing off on any crisis communications, insist back that they (or a proxy) are in the same room as the communications team. If they push back, offer to move the communications room outside their office or to teleconference them in.

3. Use good listening

You may know how to handle a social media crisis and have developed a crisis communications plan, but those are last resorts.

Often, what turns a customer from ‘irritated’ to ‘irate’ is not the mistake, but the company’s refusal to fix the mistake. A good social listening program can cut crises off at the pass.

Finding a problem on social media before it hits critical mass allows you to address irritated customers and keep the issue from growing.

“If you are oblivious to the conversation going on around you, the crisis is going to erupt and hit you in the face,” Ike says. “If you have messaging that addresses you’re on top of it, you might end up in Mashable but you won’t make CNN or the CBS evening news.”

Need effective social media listening? The Vocus PR Suite has you covered.

Image: IAEA Imagebank (Creative Commons)

About Brian Conlin

Brian Conlin is a content marketing manager for Cision. A former journalist, he enjoys researching and developing accessible content. When not writing, you will find him watching baseball and college basketball, sampling craft beer and enjoying Baltimore. Find him on Twitter @BrianConlin13.

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