11 Steps for PR Crisis Management

11 Steps for PR Crisis Management header image


Companies must prepare for inevitable PR crises. Data breaches, scandals, negative reviews, failed events, or campaigns that backfire can happen. A swift and well-crafted response is crucial to protect your brand reputation and minimize damage.

To navigate crises effectively, having a robust PR crisis management plan in place is a good idea. But it's not just about having a plan; being able to execute it well is just as important. This includes prepared statements, trained spokespeople, social media monitoring, crisis alerts, role-play simulations, and more.

A crisis can happen quickly and with little warning, so being prepared is key.

What is a PR crisis?

A PR crisis is a detrimental event that poses a threat to your reputation. It can arise from customer complaints, social media backlash, product defects, legal matters, or media scandals. It’s crucial to address and manage these situations effectively for positive reputation management.

PR Crisis Management - A spike of negative mentions could identify a crisis.If you face a spike of brand mentions and a drop in sentiment, you may have a PR crisis on your hands.

When is a crisis a crisis?

Not every issue is a crisis…
Before panic sets in, ask yourself…

    • Will this issue critically affect my company’s workflow or send the board into a frenzy?
    • Will this disrupt the bottom line?
    • Will our brand's reputation be damaged - stakeholders, customers, prospects, industry

Dealing with multiple scenarios simultaneously can result in a PR crisis. Rather than reacting impulsively, take a moment to reflect, as not all problems warrant a crisis. Handle issues cautiously to safeguard your reputation. Utilize social media listening to categorize and address potential crises effectively.

What's consumer sentiment?

Look. Listen. Learn.
Understanding consumer sentiment is crucial in spotting shifts and addressing potential PR crises. Constantly monitor brand sentiment to assess reactions, mitigate damage, and gain valuable insights into customer emotions. Develop a robust consumer intelligence strategy for actionable outcomes.

PR Crisis Management - Sentiment key driversSentiment drivers can help you identify the aspects or keywords around negative or positive brand mentions.

Which PR crises demand action?

The three types of crises that require a swift and well-planned response...

PR crisis level 1

Level 1 has the potential to become a PR disaster. Your brand will struggle to walk away unscathed.

      • Product recall - defective and/or unsafe goods
      • Workplace harassment - intimidating, offensive, abusive, discriminating behavior
      • Corporate impropriety - deception, theft, fraud, negligence, corruption, poor customer service

To manage a PR crisis, you must respond to negative mentions across social media channels, news, blogs, and more. Implement a comprehensive response strategy that encompasses multiple communication channels.

Start by publishing a well-crafted apology on your website, then share it across social media platforms. Proactively engage with the press to ensure your message is broadcast confidently and effectively.

PR crisis level 2

Recognizing the significance of level 2 concerns is crucial. Customer complaints and criticisms have the potential to escalate into major crises. You should assess the context of these comments to determine whether to address them privately or publicly.

By implementing effective social listening strategies, you can proactively identify and respond to early warning signs. This will help you uphold a strong brand reputation and ensure customer satisfaction. Swift and confident action is key to mitigating potential issues and maximizing positive outcomes.

PR crisis level 3

When a competitor or related industry faces a crisis, it could also impact your brand reputation by association. 

However, there is a solution: competitive intelligence. In addition to monitoring your social media channels, keeping an eye on your competitors' social media can prove invaluable.

If you catch wind of a potential issue, take immediate action by posting a statement. This swift response will establish a clear distance between your brand and the looming crisis.

Remember to stay vigilant and track your competitors, actively listening to the chatter. By adopting these practices, you can effectively safeguard your brand's reputation and maintain a position of strength.

PR Crisis Management - Use Yeti Data Insights to identify potential crises.Yeti Data Insights can quickly help you identify and understand negative posts about your brand that could trigger a crisis. 

How to avoid a PR crisis

Although it may appear intimidating, effectively managing and minimizing the impact of a PR crisis is achievable. By identifying and addressing risks proactively, you have the power to navigate through any challenges that may arise. Stay vigilant for signs that demand prompt attention and swift action, ensuring a smooth journey through turbulent times.

Implement rules for content

For every communication, it is imperative to ensure thorough checks and approvals. That includes social media messages, blog posts, press releases, or interviews. Nothing should go public without careful examination.

Develop comprehensive guidelines to govern all your posts and ensure their quality and credibility.

      • Implementing social media guidelines is crucial for your brand to steer clear of blunders. These guidelines should be flexible to accommodate changes. Yet still steer your social media team and shape your company voice and language.
      • A social media policy is important - it sets clear guidelines for your team to follow. By following this policy, you can proactively address potential legal issues and security concerns. Moreover, it serves as a guide on how your team should conduct themselves online, safeguarding the reputation of your brand.

Proof, and proof again

When conducting a comprehensive review, it is imperative to go beyond mere spelling errors. Verify the absence of sensitive company information or any content that may provoke offense. To mitigate risks and ensure protection, you should craft an efficient social media plan for PR crisis management.

Don’t be offensive!

Brands frequently cross the line with their messaging. The solution is simple: seek input from others and consider their opinions. When in doubt, it's better to retract it.
Remember this?

Who in their right mind… 
BTW - Charles is a New York Times columnist with 494K followers!

Lose the fat fingers!

Thanks for choosing who?

Be careful what you type. Especially if your brand name is only one letter away from another.

More haste, less speed

Time is a crucial factor, but responding without proper consideration can lead to mistakes. Instead, take a moment to gather yourself, ensuring a composed response. Emotional and impulsive reactions can exacerbate the situation, so it's vital to proceed cautiously.

Almost all companies will inevitably face a PR crisis at some point. Such circumstances can significantly impact your brand's reputation. Mistakes happen, so don’t expect perfection. However, it's crucial to maintain a human, authentic, and transparent approach.

So how can you handle a PR crisis effectively? Here’s our 11 steps: 

11 steps to manage a PR crisis

Your PR crisis management plan comes in three stages…

      • Before
      • During
      • After

The first and third, last forever. The second... feels like it lasts forever.

Forever monitor. Forever listen. Forever learn.

1 - Prepare for a crisis

Planning for negative scenarios is crucial. With a solid crisis plan in place, you can efficiently navigate challenging situations. Saving valuable time, avoiding confusion, and minimizing stress.

Time is a precious resource. You should be able to quickly address issues without scrambling for contact information or social media credentials. Preparation is key.

Handling a social media crisis

To ensure effective crisis communication, it is wise to establish a social media crisis protocol within your PR plan. 

Take a moment to evaluate the appropriateness of your planned social posts. Restrict your social calendar and focus on sharing messages that specifically address the crisis. Engage with your audience by providing genuine and empathetic responses to their comments. 

Maintaining composure is key.

2 - Build a crisis response team

To ensure effective crisis management, it is crucial to have a democratic approach with shared responsibilities. Assemble a crisis PR response team and listen to them. This group must be as diverse as your audience. Include different races, genders, ages, perspectives, and political beliefs, among other factors.

By embracing diversity, you can better address the needs and concerns of your audience with empathy and understanding.

Remember, a diverse team will offer varied perspectives. Could your messages be prone to misinterpretation? Do they risk adding fuel to the crisis fire? What might resonate with some could offend or confuse others.

Run all your future communication by the team. Use them as a focus group to obtain valuable feedback. Trust in their insights and make informed decisions. With this approach, you will be better equipped to navigate crises and uphold your brand's reputation.

Your PR crisis response team strategy should include...

  • Details of who to notify when a crisis hits. This will depend on the level of severity. 
  • Ideally, your CEO should lead your crisis team, along with your head of PR and legal. 
  • Establish a chain of command and an approval process - CEO, marketing manager, legal, HR, etc.
  • Before a crisis strikes, nominate who will speak on behalf of your company - your media spokesperson. Reacting quickly with a unified voice is essential, as multiple voices can lead to confusion and worsen the situation.

Identifying the right spokespeople

Assigning dedicated individuals for each communication channel can greatly enhance the effectiveness of your crisis management efforts.

Your spokespeople must have...

  • Skills that fit
    Online comms? A strong wordsmith? Experience being in front of the camera? Strong under pressure?
  • Level of authority
    The nature of the crisis will dictate the level of authority required. National disaster, loss of life - demands your CEO or senior leader at the helm. Along with external communicators - TV, public meetings, radio, press - you’ll need someone internally to update the team.
  • Appropriate training
    This keeps you prepared, and ready to respond. This isn’t a marketing opportunity. It’s about protecting your reputation. Ensure your spokespeople are up to speed by hiring training consultants if the skills aren’t available internally.

3 - Create your PR crisis management plan

When facing a crisis, the influx of information requests can be overwhelming. To demonstrate your control and competence, preparation is crucial. This is where your crisis communication plan truly excels. It should encompass the following key components:

  • A to-do checklist - It can be challenging to keep up when everyone is in a rush.
  • Contact details of key people - aaargh… the head of support is on holiday and I don’t have the deputy’s mobile number.
  • Who are you going to call? Experts, friendly journalists, influencers, lawyers.
  • Draft messages - templates for press releases, social media posts, interview Q&As, etc.

To develop a preliminary plan, engage in brainstorming sessions with your PR crisis team. Seek input from various customer-facing departments such as support, product, sales, legal, and others. Explore and where possible role-play all potential crisis scenarios that could arise.

While it may be challenging to anticipate or acknowledge certain crises, it is crucial to maintain an honest approach. Claiming that your product is flawless and immune to recalls is unrealistic. Things will go wrong if you’re not transparent.

You can easily predict some crises, such as mass redundancies, acquiring a competitor, or C-level termination. Let's face these challenges head-on and navigate through them with confidence.

Brainstorming brings benefits…

  • By changing an existing process, you might discover you can resolve a potential crisis before it hits.
  • Pre-written responses can give you a head start if/when a real PR crisis strikes


During PR risk management - listen, identify, review, respond.


To prepare for crises, it is crucial to simulate and diligently practice your response strategies. Certain industries may be more predictable. For example, the food industry should consider issues like food poisoning, rodent infestation, or contaminated products.

By compiling a comprehensive list of potential crises, you can showcase your ability to effectively address them. Whether that means well-crafted messaging, adept media responses, skillful interviews, or impactful press releases.

You can customize these communication templates to suit any future crisis scenario. Ensuring a confident and persuasive approach when navigating challenging circumstances.

4 - Create holding statement templates

To effectively handle a crisis, it is crucial to develop holding statements ahead of potential scenarios. These statements serve as adjustable templates ready to address unforeseen crises as well.

For instance, imagine an airline impacted by a natural disaster. In the absence of concrete information, it is prudent to limit official messages. However, a well-crafted holding statement can provide reassurance:

"Our top priority is the safety of our passengers and team, and we’ve activated our crisis response plan. We are actively working to gather all the necessary details. These will be promptly communicated through our website and social media channels."

Regular review of holding statements is imperative. Make updates and introduce new ones as needed to ensure preparedness.

5 - Communication & intelligence analysis

Through social listening, you can find early warning signs of possible PR issues. Make a list of key things to monitor. These include your brand, trending topics, key personnel, influencers, hashtags, products, competitors, industry news.

Communication channels

In today's digital age, effective communication is key to reaching your audience. It's crucial to leverage social media for its unparalleled speed and efficiency.

During times of crisis, social media plays a pivotal role, as it allows information to spread rapidly. By not being present on these platforms, you risk losing control over the narrative.

Intelligence gathering

Monitoring what consumers say about you is crucial for identifying and addressing negative trends in real time. This includes keeping an eye on social media, the press, review sites, blog posts, employees, customers, influencers, and competitors. During a crisis, monitoring feedback is vital for adapting your response strategy effectively.

Regular trend analysis ensures that you stay informed about consumer discussions, pain points, preferences, and competitor activities. Remember, a monitoring system isn't just for crises.

A robust social listening strategy not only helps identify negative trends.It also captures positive user-generated content, product feedback, audience sentiment, and trending topics. Utilizing social data is essential for shaping your marketing, communication strategy, and messaging with confidence.

6 - Identify influencers & brand ambassadors

Influencers are not only valuable for marketing campaigns and product launches but can also influence opinions during a crisis. The selection of appropriate individuals depends on the nature of the crisis at hand.  expertise and capabilities could help you navigate any situation with confidence.

7 - Get the facts before you speak

In times of panic, it is crucial to stay composed. Take decisive action by following your crisis procedure and gathering all the necessary facts before speaking. Remember to maintain a factual approach and avoid speculation.

8 - Accept responsibility & apologize

Recognize your error, offer a sincere apology, and take ownership. Be genuine, show empathy, be authentic. Emphasize the importance of apologizing without fear. It’s the correct course of action and has the potential to swiftly alter the dynamics of the situation.

Always tell the truth

Hiding your mistakes will ultimately result in exposure, a tarnished brand reputation, and diminished value. Transparency is paramount, as consumers gravitate towards trustworthy and dependable companies.

Refusing to acknowledge negative situations, disregarding issues, or shifting blame will only exacerbate the problem when the truth inevitably emerges. Instead, take charge by openly communicating your plans to rectify the situation and outlining steps to prevent its recurrence.

9 - Write your PR crisis messages

Having all the facts readily available empowers you to effectively shape your crisis response strategy. Address what occurred, outline your solution, and demonstrate your commitment to future improvements.

Be open, be honest

By promptly conveying your apology, explanation, and solution, you can expedite the process of restoring your brand's reputation. The sooner you take action, the sooner you can put an end to any negative commentary.

Don’t make false promises

This will worsen the situation. You should consistently prioritize factual accuracy. Recognize and seek support from those inside and outside your business who can bring vital knowledge.

Be reactive

Lyft faced a crisis when a passenger’s cat vanished after a journey. The company responded by providing investigators to find the cat. They also provided real-time updates for their consumers.


Lyft quickly responded to the situation to mitigate the crisis.


Ensuring the survival of your business goes beyond just preserving the value of your stock. It includes the well-being of the public and your employees. By prioritizing their needs, you can build a stronger, more resilient organization.

Don’t flood with messages

Three to four is an optimal number, tailored to the specific platform you're posting on. For example, a tweet should include a link to your website statement. This approach ensures maximum impact and engagement with your audience.

Provide clarity

Everyone should fully understand the situation and understand the necessary actions. Instead of causing panic, it’s important to demonstrate an understanding of the crisis. Then outline the steps needed to prevent future incidents.

10 - Choose your channels of distribution

The choice will depend on your typical corporate positioning and overall communications strategy. Consider the channels that resonate most effectively with your brand when engaging your audience. These can include blogs, social media, TV, press, and more. Take into account the unique characteristics of each platform as you make informed decisions.

  • Social media involves conversation - be ready to talk and control your messages
  • Press releases broadcast globally and are accessible to news agencies
  • Blog posts give you greater control, plus you’re talking with your company voice
  • Television needs experience, training, and an agreed script - great for talking to a wider audience

Social media is an incredible platform that empowers us with a strong voice. We can express our enthusiasm, voice concerns, engage in discussions, and share our thoughts freely.

Yet, some brands feel apprehensive about this freedom of expression. They hesitate, hold back, or even ignore the potential impact.

However, it's important to understand that consumers are indifferent to whether brands choose to participate or not. If they have complaints, they will voice them.

This necessitates brands to actively monitor and be prepared to engage. They should proactively post messages, respond to negative comments, and establish a strong presence. By doing so, brands can effectively connect with their audience and foster meaningful relationships.

11 - Post-crisis review

Monitoring. Updating. Analyzing. Learning.

Consumers are reading, ignoring, or commenting on your messages. It's crucial to continue monitoring the situation. Is the PR crisis still lingering?

Recovering from a crisis takes time, and there's a chance it could resurface. You must be prepared to provide additional statements, interviews, press releases, and social media responses if necessary.

How is your brand reputation faring after the PR crisis? Utilize sentiment analysis to gauge consumer sentiment towards the incident, your response, and the current state of affairs.

Experiencing a PR crisis can be tough, but it's also an opportunity for growth. You will learn from this experience. Helping you prevent future crises, address issues, improve company operations, and deliver better products. Embrace the lessons learned and emerge stronger than before.

After the crisis, answer these questions...

  • How did your team manage the PR crisis?
  • What should you improve in your crisis plan?
  • What should you change to avoid it happening again?
  • How will you recover your credibility, and repair your reputation?

What not to do in a crisis!

Okay, I’ve told you what you should do. Here’s a list of what you should avoid...

Don't be an ostrich

  • You can’t pretend it’s not happening

Avoid a knee-jerk reaction

  • Pause
  • Take a breath

Don’t attack

  • Don’t react to false rumors about your brand
  • Don’t blame others
  • Don’t respond negatively
  • Put emotions on the back burner


Declining to comment won't effectively address the situation. In a PR crisis, being unable to respond will be detrimental. It could create an impression of guilt, unpreparedness, or even arrogance.
Instead of fabricating information, it is advisable to be honest.

Acknowledge the lack of useful information and assure you will issue an update when available. This approach demonstrates transparency and a commitment to keeping stakeholders informed.

Timing is everything

Timing is crucial. It's important to gather all the facts before responding, avoiding the risk of retracting earlier statements and appearing foolish. However, delaying a response can give the impression of indifference. It's a delicate balance to strike.

Don’t forget business as normal

As time passes, people tend to shift their attention elsewhere. New challenges arise, and the spotlight fades away. However, amidst it all, the essence of everyday business remains steadfast. It’s crucial to persistently promote your brand and effectively market your product.

Discover more about crisis management

To learn more about Talkwalker's crisis management capabilities, just click below.


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