Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Three Things to Remember in a PR Crisis

Rudyard Kipling said  “If you can keep your head when all around you are losing theirs, and blaming it on you” (1910, p. 175), and that is still good advice, more than 100 years later.

Crises can make us lose our heads. What helps us to not lose our head is practice. Rehearsal. Contingency planning. These are the practices that all our emergency service organisations are based on.

Companies too need to think through what things may go wrong, and build a plan for how they will communicate when those things actually do go wrong.

There are three key things to remember when everything around us is hitting the fan:
  1. Firstly, we need to have one key message. We need to have sorted out ahead of time what our key message is in any particular crisis, but probably the most likely message will be "We cannot apologise enough, and we will do our utmost to find out what happened, and work hard to ensure it will not happen again". As we convey that apology and intention to put it right, we need to not downplay the impact of the crisis, and we need to get our message out as soon as possible.
  2. Secondly, we need to be honest and truthful. Whoever is speaking on our behalf has to absolutely stick to the truth. We must never ask the media to withhold anything on our behalf, and avoid ""no comment" answers. We must not presume to comment on behalf of the victims. As part of this, we also need to anticipate the questions that will be asked by the media... and we need to offer as much info as possible, even if it’s damaging.  However, we shouldn't get sucked into any speculation with the media either - no damages, no blaming, no causes until we know.
  3. And lastly, we should be remorseful. Saying we are sorry doesn't mean we are liable. It means we have caused our publics a problem instead of providing the solution we intended. That is never a good thing. We avoid any diminishing of impact of our remorse through use of humour, recovery or self-promotion of replacement product or services.
While we work through any crisis, we need to remain as calm as we can, track our media coverage and media inquiries during the crisis, and try to learn from what goes well and what doesn't.

Don't let sorry "be the hardest word" for your organisation.


  • John, E. & Taupin, B. (1976). Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word. UK: The Rocket Record Company.
  • Kipling, R. (1910). Rewards and Fairies. Canada: The Macmillan Company of Canada Ltd.

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