Crisis communications: What’s your plan?

Last month’s Applebees social media meltdown played out right alongside the Super Bowl. A couple of weeks ago, the Girl Scouts of America lost an opportunity to build bridges via social media and instead chose to stick to what many judged to be an archaic policy instead of getting with the times and technology.


photo credit: Highways Agency

What do both of these examples have in common? Both of these cases became classic examples of how one seemingly small issue suddenly blows up and becomes a crisis. For both Applebee’s and the Girl Scouts, expert assistance to handle these PR/social media blunders was necessary. But what is the process for a crisis communication plan? Judging by how these two events were handled, there are plenty of lessons to learn about best practices during a crisis.

Crisis communications are tricky situations that require careful navigation. If you know a crisis will break out, it would be wise to control how the news breaks. Being proactive and breaking the news to media with your key messages in place and your spokespeople delivering the information can help mitigate damage and risk. Many companies do not operate this way and end up having the story told without their input or cooperation. Look back at the headlines from both the Applebee’s and Girl Scouts stories and it becomes clear these two companies were not prepared for a crisis in the social media age.


photo credit: cleverclevergirl

Let’s hope that your company and your PR consultant have developed a crisis communications plan in preparation for a crisis situation. In this day and age, it’s not a matter of ‘if’ it will happen it’s a matter of ‘when’. Companies who have a solid crisis communications plan in place when crises occur handle them more efficiently and effectively and avoid costly missteps during the whirlwind of media attention and scrutiny. There a number of elements to a good crisis communications plan:

  • Identification of approved spokespeople for each business unit,
  • Current list of key media contacts,
  • Outline social media profiles with all login credentials
  • Plan of action to initiate once a crisis occurs,
  • Parameters for developing timely and transparent messaging, and
  • Guidance on monitoring the story development and public reaction.

Once these elements are in place, our firm SPARKER Strategy created and advocated the 5-step SPEAK approach to ensure the crisis does not leave a client’s brand or business in a shambles.

  1. Speed: Respond quickly. But quickly need not be thoughtlessly. Work with a sense of urgency and stay focused on accuracy.
  2. Position: It can be easy to forget all the great things your company has done in a crisis. Use the crisis to position your brand/business as the credible source you are known to be. If your credibility is being questioned find ways to quickly re-establish it.
  3. Empathy: It’s more important to say what your audience needs to hear than it is to be “on message”.
  4. Admit: If you’ve made a mistake, admit—then fix it.
  5. Keep your responses authentic, genuine, and brief.

These 5 key points work for traditional PR and also transfer well into the social realm. The bottom line is a crisis can be a pivotal moment for business. With the speed of PR and social media today, PR professionals need to be adaptable and savvy, and must operate with the knowledge that audiences are smarter, louder, and quicker than ever. There can be no glossing over of details. As PR professionals we must embolden our clients and our colleagues to face a crisis head-on, mitigate the risk to the best of our abilities, and endeavour to move past the crisis with a renewed trust and clarity in place.

Susie Parker
With more than 20 years experience in restaurant, retail, education and health care industries Susie Erjavec Parker launched SPARKER Strategy Group to bring businesses up-to-speed on how to integrate social media. SPARKER Strategy Group specializes in the intersection of traditional and digital/social marketing and PR. As a specialty marketer to women and families, Parker also serves as a business coach to mompreneurs and women business owners. Susie is the founder of WIN: Women | Influence | Networking—a budding networking group that promotes and connects female entrepreneurs and their businesses with referrals and recommendations. She is a Starbucks addict and often experiences “ghost vibrations” in her back right pocket--even as she is talking on her iPhone.
Susie Parker

There are 7 comments

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *