A public relations crisis may not always be preventable but the effects can be minimised. By nature, a PR crisis is a surprise, which is why you have to prepare for such eventualities. The word crisis can be daunting, but the first thing to remember is not to panic. Leaders and PR staff need to keep a level head to make the best decisions. This blog will guide you on the best methods of managing a PR crisis. 

The corporate world has well and truly shifted online, meaning it’s easier to spread information about your business. This has many upsides, but also means a crisis can go viral in a matter of minutes. For example, mental health company Better Help was in hot water last year after a therapist on TikTok revealed that the company sells its user info to third parties using sketchy, vague phrasing in the T&Cs. The company then ‘partnered’ with controversial artist Travis Scott following the tragedies at his Astroworld concert, leaving many consumers unhappy with the brand. To determine if a PR crisis is brewing, listen to your consumers; social media is a great tool for gauging public opinion and reaction. Keep monitoring over time, as people’s reactions carry weight and influence the direction of the crisis. 

It’s important to determine the level of crisis you’re facing. For example – categorise potential risks based on a ‘three level’ approach.

Level 1 – this includes crises such as workplace harassment, corporate impropriety and product recall. Level 1 can be extremely damaging if poorly handled. Media will react negatively to this type of crisis, so your response must be multifaceted; apologies and responses across websites, social media, press and other. You must respond fast and with sincerity. You will unlikely have all the facts, but that is not an excuse to engage. Be honest, say what you can say at a particular stage and commit and deliver on future updates.

Level 2 – this is more likely to involve a smaller group or individual. They are less likely to become a major issue but should not be underestimated. These types of negative reactions and complaints should be handled quickly to avoid them escalating. Monitor closely and determine the sources of these complaints and whether public or private engagement is better.

Finally, a level 3 – this crisis can occur when a related company or industry is involved with a scandal, as your brand could be affected by association. Here it is important to monitor the social media of competitors and allies, as well as your own. Consider ‘what ifs’. Is there a likelihood you will get asked to comment? Will your brand start to be mentioned? How would you respond. Also, observe the strategies and receptions of a competitor’s PR crisis and learn from them. It could help you when dealing with future crises. 

So, react quickly but thoughtfully. This is a careful balance, as rushing your strategy is likely to lead to mistakes, but waiting too long to respond can further anger consumers. 

Covid 19 has only heightened division, and with more and more people flooding social networking sites, it is important to avoid aggression and knee-jerk reaction.

Implement rules on posting to ensure that nothing detrimental can slip through. Those rules should include the review and sign off process, as well as guidance on what could be deemed insensitive or offensive. Humour can be great on social media, but not always – and especially not in a crisis situation. Your customers and advocates will want to know that you’re addressing their concerns seriously. 

Above all – do the ‘common sense’ check! Honesty matters. If you don’t have all the answers in the early stage of a crisis, that’s okay, but you need to front up and provide regular updates using the information you do have.


Next week, we’ll focus on how Astley Media supports brands with their communications and marketing, including in crisis situations. Talk to us about how we can help support your organisation hello@astleymedia.co.uk