5 Essential Crisis Communications Best Practices

Learn the important elements of a crisis communications strategy.

Jeremy Gibbs

April 11, 2023

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin

As we well know, most often a crisis cannot be anticipated. However, effective preparation can mitigate its impact on your organization’s reputation or bottom line.

According to Notified’s 2022 survey conducted in partnership with PRWeek, 95% of public relations pros say the expectations placed on them today are greater than ever before. C-suites rely on their PR teams to respond to major global events, social issues, geopolitical issues, the stock market and Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) and sustainability initiatives.

This blog will help you review your crisis playbook and the communications elements of your business continuity plans and to update the details about who should immediately be informed of a crisis - including your list of spokespeople and your checklist of steps to take.

The common elements of a crisis playbook complement – rather than replace – the creative thinking and judgement needed. Here are five crisis communications best practices for you to consider:

1.    A Good Crisis Communications Playbook Starts With the Response Team

Consider the team.

In times of crisis, public relations and communications teams are responsible for drafting proactive and reactive statements, conducting media outreach, fielding inbound calls, distributing press releases and prepping executives and others for interviews and press conferences.

Marketing teams typically develop messaging for stakeholders – most notably customers. Digital marketing can also be repurposed for damage control.

For example:

  • Deleting controversial content if it’s yours – but don’t hide negative comments by others as it’s counterproductive for trust.
  • Creating a bank of frequently asked questions (FAQs).
  • Considering paid media (i.e. sponsored social posts) for announcements. Both PR and marketing teams identify and measure the pulse of the media in traditional and social channels.

The legal team provides critical input on minimizing risk and compliance with contractual and regulatory requirements. They can help steer messaging away from litigious consequences.

Investor relations communicates the impact of the crisis to stakeholders and other members of the financial community. They should also take a lead role in preparing a more specialized response team to the threat of activist investors.

Product management can address technical or safety issues and form the inside line on cause, impact and resolution plan.

Information security might offer insights on cyberattacks and other instances of unauthorized access and requirements for resolving vulnerabilities.

Your internal communications, security and HR departments should also be part of your crisis response team.

It’s important to start by mapping out potential scenarios – from the most common to the least likely or extreme – and prepare charts that define roles and responsibilities for each team member. React as a team.

2.    Maintain a Directory and List of Succession

The contact directory for your crisis response team should be up to date with multiple ways to contact individuals – including home, work and mobile phone numbers as well as personal and work email addresses.

Determine who to contact next in the chain of command if, for example, a crisis breaks while the CEO is exploring the Mariana Trench.

Consider adding a list of key clients or media contacts to that directory.

3.    Get Approvals in Advance and Rehearse Crisis Communications Situations

Create media, customer and investor holding templates for each of the scenarios the team identified. Up-front approval from the legal team and executives means the statements can go out as soon as a crisis happens.

High-risk industries should also conduct drills frequently – but any industry can benefit from them.

Play out scenarios and simulate a press conference to learn:

  • What worked?
  • What did not?
  • Who stepped outside the bounds of their role?
  • Who withheld information from the crisis team?
  • Can the existing plan be modified to be more successful in future?

The team should get together and answer the same questions and more post-crisis. You should also monitor metrics such as share price, customer sentiment or impact on the order book to determine what impact the team’s actions had.

Also, thank any stakeholder groups who stepped up and defended you. Identify particular stakeholders with whom you should connect with to act as possible advocates in the future.

4.    Listen to What’s Being Said About Your Company

Most media monitoring and social listening platforms have real-time alert capabilities. PR and marketing teams should set thresholds for what constitutes a usual volume of articles or social media posts, or when highly sensitive topics emerge.

Consider worst-case scenarios or legal subject matter and set keywords accordingly. Ask your media monitoring partner for help if you need it.

PR and communications teams should also be on the lookout for inbound enquiries that signal a crisis.

The Listen module in the Notified PR Platform.​​​​


5.    Execute Calmly During a Crisis Communications Situation

Do not panic. Holding statements are important. Saying nothing until the team has found out the facts is acceptable if the team follows through with it. Unless there are legal ramifications or victims of a crisis, holding off a little can avoid a story with a two-day shelf-life mushrooming into a public argument or drama. If victims are involved, issue messages of sympathy promptly.

Don’t play the system. Social media and the 24/7 news cycle means it’s harder to “bury” news these days. Releasing bad news on a Friday or before a long weekend, or when media outlets are focused on a prominent national story has a limited impact, and you’re likely delaying the inevitable by a day or two.

Remember, not every negative story is a crisis. On social media, don’t feed trolls by responding to every minor complaint. Instead, know your influencers and draw up a list that show a longstanding interest in your organization and could potentially shift opinion. Respect their views, check the accuracy of their comments, and keep them in the picture.

Imagining the infinite forms of crises that could hit an organization can be intimidating. It remains a worthwhile exercise – a thoughtful playbook, up-to-date media monitoring and regular media training will better equip your team to tackle issues head-on.

Crises happen – prepare for them, learn from them and move on.


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