Crisis communications

Crisis communications: your questions answered

Written by Claire Slobodian, Content Director

14 July 2021


A crisis is something that no business wants to deal with, but everyone has to be prepared for. If a crisis were to hit your business tomorrow, would you know want to do? Do you have a plan you can refer to, or spokespeople ready to speak to media? If not, it’s time to prepare for the worst-case scenario.

Berkeley recently led a webinar covering all things crisis communications, which featured a lively fireside chat and Q&A session with our attendees. Here, we answer all the crisis comms questions raised by the audience in our webinar Q&A to give you the expert insights to help you keep calm and navigate a PR crisis with ease.

How do we prevent too many people from becoming involved in a crisis management situation?

It’s important for every business to have a crisis comms framework and a plan so you can identify the roles and responsibilities ahead of any crisis. A steering committee will be vital to the management of comms during a crisis. By choosing spokespeople and beforehand, there should be little reason to involve the whole team – particularly if everyone is aware of the strategy beforehand.

Essential people should include someone from the C-suite, legal department, communications, operations and possibly customer service. There may also need to be someone from a specific business area related to the crisis, depending on the situation, but overall you shouldn’t have more than ten people involved.

How often should your crisis comms plan be reviewed?

As a general rule of thumb, plans should be reviewed every six months and adjusted accordingly, after all things change. It’s also important that anyone who joins the business in a senior role and who will impact decisions in a crisis are briefed on the plans as part of the onboarding process; that way, there are no surprises in an already potentially stressful time.

Once a crisis is in the media, should you be proactive in sending your statement out or only send it when somebody asks?

It’s worth taking time to consider the level of crisis and where it’s being reported. If the story is in multiple outlets, then, yes, it would be appropriate to be proactive and ask outlets to put your statement out to help manage the message. That said, if it’s only in one publication, you might decide not to, so you don’t amplify the situation and instead choose to monitor it.

Is putting a senior spokesperson in front of the media is a good idea?

It depends on several factors. If you’re talking to a national breakfast programme, for example, and you’re a big brand, they’re not going to be satisfied with an interview with your spokesperson. More and more broadcasters are saying they want to speak to someone from the C-suite.

So, it’s worth always having someone ready who has a “head of” title or is a managing director or “chief” as they will carry more weight. If you’re unable to do that, find someone in the business that knows the issue inside and out, can talk to customers, and talk about people rather than a product.

What is the best way to respond to a crisis that breaks on social media?

Initially, it can be worth sitting back and seeing how it goes – which also gives you some time to work on your response. A small number of disgruntled customers won’t necessarily turn into a crisis.

Have a plan for how far it gets before intervening. For example, at a certain point, you plan to upload a video of your CEO apologising for the incident or post a fact box or infographic to change the direction. Video puts you in control of the narrative, it also gives the media comment in a form where you have control over the message.

For B2B companies that don’t have to deal with consumer-related crises, what are some tips on considering what could go wrong?

B2B businesses have their own set of concerns in terms of potential crises, such as bad customer experiences going viral, local media looking for a story and disgruntled employees, to name a few.

It’s important to consider all of these in your crisis plan and have a template of what should be said and done in these situations. It’s always worth thinking about what’s the worst that could go wrong and working down from there in order of severity.

What does a crisis look like for a non-profit, and how do you tackle that?

When it comes to not-for-profits and charities there’s a different level of response from the public and the media compared to a corporate business since people donate to their cause in good faith – adding another level of scrutiny.

The key is to convince both the public and the media early on that this is a one-off situation and not an ongoing problem – having a crisis management strategy in place for several situations will help you tackle a storm.

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