6 Tips for Managing a Crisis

Managing a crisis is never easy and requires very strong leadership to lead everyone to a safe harbor. It also requires a close-knit, respectful and fully aware crisis communications team.

Here are some quick tips for creating a crisis communications team that is technically well planned and is prepared for any breakdown in communication:

Create a crisis communications plan. You may already have a comprehensive plan for your organization; however, you will need a simple and straightforward plan for an actual crisis. Make sure you have both on hand and that they are up-to-date and accessible quickly.

Determine your team before a crisis hits. Preparation is key. Within your crisis communications plan, you should have outlined – and have executive agreement on – who among senior leadership will sit on the team and who will chair the team during an actual crisis.

Choose a leader who is ready and able to lead. Crises can become very difficult. Choose a leader who has the wherewithal to lead the team to the finish.

Keep your team to a maximum of 5 members. This is crucial. Research has proven that a team larger than 5 can become ineffective in a fast-moving crisis. Each member should represent one of your key operational divisions within your organization.

Practice. Run mock drills at least once a year with the team. These drills should be as real world as possible and preferably run by a crisis communications expert.

Monitor behaviors during the drill. Use the drills as a learning experience and review with the team their interactions and decisions made throughout the drill, highlighting areas that could be potentially harmful in an actual crisis.

5 Tips for Getting Your Message Out in a Crisis

Keeping control of your message in a crisis situation can be challenging. Facts and misinformation fly fast and furious. Externally and internally the feeling is that control is being lost and you are running to even catch up let alone getting ahead of a fast-moving crisis. Getting the media to share your message will go a long way in damping down the chaos and will be the first step in getting control back of the situation. Here are several tips for getting the media to carry your message in a fast-moving crisis:

Identify your strongest relationships, across several channels. Cementing several strong relationships with the media is vital at times like this but the work needs to be done prior to a fast-moving crisis.

Keep the media informed by developing your narrative. Communicate as often as possible through updated statements to keep the media abreast of what is being done to fix the issue. Being seen as a reliable source of news in a fast-moving crisis will influence coverage.

Make your narrative simple and straightforward. Keep your eye on the coverage and the reaction to that coverage. This will help you to course correct as you go to ensure you are addressing the most important elements of the crisis with your audience.

Don’t forget social media. Make sure all of your owned channels are communicating the narrative step-by-step as well with links to the updated statements. Do not let your team get bogged down in responses on social. Pick 1 or 2 comments/replies and respond to those.

Be as transparent as possible. State the truth and always focus on the steps you are taking to address the issue. Keep your messages forward focused.

#Bendgate: Lessons Learned

Last week, while returning to London on the train from a wedding in the country, one of my fellow wedding guests pulled out her brand new iPhone 6 Plus. It looked beautiful and had some great new features that she quickly demonstrated. Not one of us referred to it as the ‘bendy phone’.

Upon landing back in the States the next day, #bendgate was in full force.

So what happened? One video went viral of a user bending their iPhone 6 Plus with his hands the same week several other users posted complaints and videos showing that their phones had bended while in their pockets. By several, Apple reported 9 complaints in total. Some are now arguing that the video was a fake and it was a planned negative attack against Apple.

But due to the power of social, 9 complaints out of millions of users equaled a public relations wildfire.


Slow to respond. Apple did not respond immediately to the growing hype around the bend issue perhaps hoping to wait this out or thinking their corporate brand was strong enough to overcome a few complaints around their new product release. The universe loves to fill a vacuum and fill it, it did. During Apple’s absence from the conversation, the brand identity of the iPhone 6 Plus – and iPhone 6 – was taken over and became the ‘bendy phone’.

No-action statement. Apple did eventually release a statement to the media; however, it focused on explaining the design, structure and testing of the phone. It did not address what actions it would take to ensure that bending was no longer an issue. It acknowledged the problem but it did not provide the next steps to a solution.

Apparent lack of scenario preparation. Apple has a much admired approached to their product releases – they keep the product veiled in secrecy to keep the excitement at its peak. But what they do not seem to be doing is preparing different crisis scenarios on launch or to have a plan of action in place to enable them to respond quickly.

Apple eventually took matters into their own hands and gave tours of its hardware testing facilities to journalists to prove the durability of the iPhone but the damage had been done. If they were quicker to respond, had a plan in place and had opened their doors to journalists early on, they may have been able to mitigate the damage to their brand and image.

4 Key Elements of a Crisis Communications Team

This article is reprinted from PR News. Follow @prnews on Twitter for the latest trends in public relations.

In assembling a communications team to successfully guide your organization through a crisis, there are certain qualities that should stand out among candidates.

Here are my top four elements of a crisis communications team that will function well under pressure:

Connection. How vital are they/their division to the crisis outcome? For example, if you are facing a threat to your technical operations, your CIO or CTO would be an essential member.

Skills. What skills do you need to bring to the team for it to function well? Typically, I would choose the HR director or chief talent officer, CIO/CTO, CCO and legal counsel, keeping the team to a maximum of five or six. The skills you will need depend on the crisis you face, and the selection will have a considerable impact on the outcome. Choose wisely.

Leadership. The most effective crisis team I have worked on had a chair appointed by the CEO to represent him and to report back. Having an independent chair to help negotiate and move the discussion along while considering all options can be essential to a positive outcome.

Experience. Are there staff who have had previous crisis experience? If so, you may want to have them on the team to help guide and advise the chair. They can serve as an auxiliary member and not as part of the official crisis team.

Join us for PR News’ Crisis Communications Boot Camp in New York City on September 15th at the Yale Club. For more details, please visit: www.crisisbootcamp2014.com

Rebranding to Rebuild Trust

Most companies undertake a rebranding when strategies change, product lines are revamped or as a natural part of a company’s evolution. Some are forced to do so when consumer trust in a brand plummets.

The most recent announcement of a rebrand in an attempt to rebuild trust is Malaysia Airlines. The airline announced in July that it was planning “a major overhaul” to include rebranding itself after two air disasters in just five months. Despite one of the best safety records in the industry, 2014 has left many consumers with more questions about the airline than answers.

Will the rebrand work? For other airlines it has, most notably for AirTran, formerly ValuJet. When ValuJet’s new brand was announced, it had the requisite new name, logo and tag line but also enhanced business services.

What will be important for Malaysia Airlines is to stress how the operation of the airline has changed and to avoid an overly stylized rebranding. Those changes must be tangible enough to be experienced by consumers for it to seem “real”. Malaysia Airlines may have been the victim of circumstance, making it challenging to identify which changes in operations they can control that will directly restore consumer confidence in the brand.

If you are considering a rebranding to rebuild trust, here are some points to consider before you start:

Be honest about what has changed and reflect that in your new brand. Surface changes alone will not erase the past and may even create a negative response among consumers.

Lower expectations. Don’t expect the public to improve their trust overnight. It will take concerted effort and messaging over several years to repair the damage. Think BP.

Timing is important. Rebranding too soon after a disaster will seem disingenuous. Too late and it will seem like a last-ditch effort. Benchmark consumer perception over time to determine when to rebrand and how successful your efforts are.

Be clear on how your brand is better than before. Whether its changing business practices, processes and ensuring safety, explain how it is better.

Remember your loyalty base and start there. The rush is usually to repair the brand damage with the public-at-large first; however, it’s often times wiser to start with your loyal base and fan out from there.