10 Tips to Survive a PR Crisis

iStock_000003013632XSmallIf your reputation or bottom line is at risk by a wave of bad publicity, you could quickly be “toast”.  Thankfully, there is a well-worn path that helps you and your organization survive the attack.  Somewhere in the depths of my files on public relations, I laid my hands on what I named a ”crisis survivor guide.” The origins of this document have long since faded. But the top 10 list is well worth keeping in mind if you are preparing for or dealing with a public relations crisis.


10. Consult emergency crisis plan and map of people to call.

  • What do you mean you have no plan? Have a plan!
  • First, do no harm – your words have consequences. Make sure they are the right ones.
  • One person handles the crisis from beginning to end.

9. Know what you want to say and say it.

  • Don’t babble. Have a message, know what you want to say and say it. Then say it again
  • Know who you are talking to and what you are trying to do
  • Don’t answer negative questions negatively: rephrase!

8. Communicate with facts.

  • If you don’t know what you are talking about, stop talking!
  • If you don’t know the answer, say “I don’t know”
  • Never assume your comments are off the record
  • Never lie (or speculate) … you won’t get away with it

7. Make yourself available to respond to media or to the crisis team leader – or the stakeholders/community!

  • Don’t think journalists – the mainstream media or the citizen journalists — are your enemy. They have jobs to do and are critical to your ability to communicate effectively
  • Don’t think journalists – MSM or the blogosphere — are your friends. They don’t owe you any favors and don’t expect any
  • Be open and accessible to the stakeholder leaders
  • Don’t make things worse; If you don’t have an answer, give a reason

6. Do not discuss unsubstantiated allegations or legal matters.

  • Don’t discount a crisis or assume it will go away. Conversely, don’t turn a simple problem into a crisis
  • Carefully analyze the situation and respond accordingly
  • Don’t let a lawyer be the spokesperson

5. Monitor all print, TV, radio coverage and social media channels to cite and correct errors which are published.

  • Never say anything you don’t want to read on the front page of tomorrow’s newspaper
  • Don’t be afraid to comment in the social media and keep the conversation two-way
  • Be sure to use news feeds and alerts on your published Web comments so you get real-time notice of developments and aren’t caught behind the curve

4. Don’t further debates, try to end them.

  • Don’t ascribe blame — accept blame when you are at fault
  • Put events in context, but remember: your job is to bring the story to an end

3. Don’t get angry and never argue.

  • As Mark Twain said, “Never get in an argument with someone who can buy ink by the barrel”
  • Convey respect to people or groups that have a grievance with you

2. Speak with compassion, empathy, honesty and commitment.

  • Put people first: show sympathy to the victims
  • Be honest: disclose everything because you will have to eventually…off-the-record doesn’t exist

1. Don’t Be Defensive! But apologize when necessary.

  • Remember your reputation is on the line
  • Follow up with media contacts and stakeholders/grassroots groups to show steps taken to avoid a future crisis or to give more information demonstrating you solved the problem


Examples of legendary PR Crisis moments abound.  There is much fodder for discussion.

One PR Crisis that worth recalling is the “Purple Tunnel of Doom”.  For those who may not remember, this was when hundreds of people with purple tickets to see President Obama’s 2008 swearing-in got trapped in an underground tunnel instead of seeing history due to bungled planning by organizers.  The folks in charge of managing this fiasco, namely the U.S. Capitol Police, missed the boat on all 10 on my list – at least at the beginning.

Agree? Disagree? Have another example to toss around? Discuss!