Crisis Communications: When to Hire a PR Team


The questions don’t do the damage. Only the answers do.

~ Sam Donaldson, reporter and news anchor

The tragedy unfolding this week with the horrific crash of the German passenger plane in the French Alps demonstrates the need to have an informed spokesperson prepared to represent your organization if a public crisis occurs. Crisis communications planning should be an ongoing process for your business, with a plan of action ready to implement if the unthinkable happens. The last thing your organization needs is a series of public media mistakes and missteps when you are most exposed and vulnerable.

The best time to hire a crisis PR team is today, before any public relations disaster has occurred. Your team should anticipate a crisis and be prepared, trained and have a solid plan to follow in the event of a crisis. Time is critical in a PR crisis, and many well-intentioned mistakes can happen in the public and media scrutiny.  Your public relations team will help your business or nonprofit prepare documents, systems and people who know how to handle an emergency:

  • Crisis communications plan: Everyone from the CEO to the receptionist to your internal marketing and sales team needs to know who to turn to with questions and information in a crisis situation. There should be clearly written procedures on who to contact when an event occurs and who is in charge of managing and executing the crisis communication plan. Employees, volunteers, advocates, stakeholders and board members must be clearly informed who is authorized to speak on behalf of your organization.
  • Identified and trained spokespersons: You may use an employee as a spokesperson, or your PR team may handle all public and media inquiries if a crisis occurs. There are benefits to both options:
    • The public and media may respond better to the CEO or other senior member of your team, and have confidence in their visibility
    • a PR professional who is not a member of your team may be better equipped to provide unemotional and professional responses in a very stressful circumstance.
    • More than one person may be needed to communicate with the public: you may have one person designated as a media spokesperson, and another person designated to manage social media. Your crisis communications plan will clearly identify who takes the lead in all crisis communications to develop and deliver all crisis messaging.

Your PR team can help you decide who is best equipped to handle crisis communications, and identify contingency options. Media training for dealing with an aggressive media under the glare of cameras and microphones or on social media should be rehearsed before a crisis event occurs.

  • Contingency plans: No matter how solid your communications plan is, and how well trained your team is on how to handle a crisis, things happen. A PR professional hasalready experienced crisis events with other clients, and can guide you through unexpected turns of event. In todays 24/7/365 instant news cycle and social media world, a story can change in an instant.

Hiring a PR team for crisis communications planning may seem expensive: but hiring a PR team after a crisis occurs to clean up the damage is even more expensive. Hiring public relations professionals to develop a crisis communications strategy before tragedy occurs is a smart investment in your company's future.

For More Reading on Crisis Communications
Meltwater: 10 Step Crisis Communication Management
PR Daily: How to Create a Crisis Plan in Less Than 30 Minutes