Do you or your organization have a crisis communication plan?
Is it currently up to date?

My compliments to those of you who have a crisis communication plan that your public relations staff can use when "the shit hits the fan." You've taken a huge step toward being prepared for an emergency. But, it may not be enough.

The next critical question is: When was your plan last reviewed and updated?

A surprising number of organizations that prepare crisis plans simply put them on a shelf and leave them there until they're needed. The biggest problem with this is that employees frequently move on or have their responsibilities changed, so those who were originally assigned to play a role in a crisis may no longer be in place, or they may have totally new responsibilities. Beyond that, the company may have adopted new technology, changed phone or IT systems, or be operating in different facilities. If you don't realize this until you're in the midst of a crisis, you have further complicated the crisis situation you're facing. What may have once been a perfect plan is now worse than useless. Trying to follow it will waste waste time and generate frustration because now, instead of knowing whom you need to contact and how to reach them, you have to find someone who can help you and you have to convince them to do so.

To avoid such a disaster, smart and successful practitioners periodically review and update their crisis plans. The frequency will vary depending on the type of organization and the environment in which it operates. -- An airport, for instance, probably needs to review/update its crisis plans more frequently than a retail shoe store. -- For fast-moving, high-risk organizations, monthly reviews often work well. Other organizations may do them quarterly or biannually. But, the absolute minimum should be an annual review/update.

And, if you opt for annual reviews, I urge you to do them in the spring, not just to link them to spring cleaning, but so you can consider the latest Annual Crisis Report from the Institute for Crisis Management while you're reviewing your plan. This report, normally released in April, summarizes the previous year's crises around the globe and offers insights into new threats that might be headed your way.

Read more about crisis communication.     

:  Initially created to support the public relations courses I taught at Northern Kentucky University, it's now used as a supplemental text in scores of university courses worldwide. It's also used as a reference or refresher by PR professionals, especially those preparing for accreditation or certification exams. Since I retired, site updates are no longer on a strict schedule but usually occur every 6-8 weeks.

Michael Turney, Ph.D., ABC, Professor Emeritus
Northern Kentucky University

2017 was another crisis-filled year.

Analysts say it's hard to compare crises in 2017 with those from previous years because they changed their methodologies. Nonetheless, they assert that "it was another record year for crises in the news." And, these crises hit an incredibly wide-range of companies including Uber, Samsung, Wells Fargo, Volkswagen, Google, and United Airlines to name just a few.

There's much more detail in the 2017 Annual Crisis Report from the Institute for Crisis Management. It summarizes last year's organizational crises around the world and analyzes the news coverage they received. It's a must-read for serious public relations practitioners, and I urge you to read it in its entirety. Don't limit yourself to the few highlights I mention here.

Considering the horrific headlines and nationwide protests sparked by mass shootings and by the "Me Too" movement during 2017, you might have expected them to lead the list of major crises and figure prominently in this report. But, they didn't. The shootings and their aftermath fall into the "Catastrophe" or "Workplace Violence" categories, which combined amount to less than 5% of all crisis news coverage. And, even though "more than 30 powerful men in entertainment, business, politics and the news media have been publicly condemned for their alleged conduct" and most lost their jobs, "Sexual Harassment" accounted for less than 1% of all crisis news coverage.

The biggest block of crisis news coverage, almost 27%, dealt with "Mismanagement." This includes "professional malpractice, misappropriation of resources, misconduct, negligence, collusion and unethical or questionable practices" that have an adverse impact on an organization. Discrimination which could also be included here is not; it's a category all by itself. Deplorably, it's been steadily increasing in recent years. In 2017, it was the second most commonly reported type of crisis, accounting for 18% of all crisis news coverage.

It's also worth noting that the "Most Crisis-Prone Industries" in 2017 were Banking and Financial Services, Technology, Automotive, and Transportation.

Read ICM's 2017 report on its website.     


Online readings
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site users


Working in public relations doesn't require
that you call yourself a PR practitioner.

It's not really a great or catchy job title, is it?

Wouldn't you rather have a more interesting title? - Maybe ...

  • "fact arranger"
  • "message massager" or
  • "friend raiser?"

I sure would. Maybe that's because I love words and word play so much, but I think it also says something about my creativity, language skills, and self-confidence. After all, when you get right down to it, "public relations practitioner" is a pretty pitiful job title or description for someone who claims to be able to present people, organizations, and ideas in interesting and meaningful ways. There's little creative or captivating about that job title.

Admittedly, some of the alternative titles I mentioned may not be within everyone's comfort zone or possibly their employer's tolerance level. They may be too smart-alecky (or other smart-a word) or not serious enough for some tastes, but I personally love clever, pungent, and thought-provoking job titles. They make listeners do a double-take or sometimes mutter, "Hunhh?" but, once they're explained, most people nod and say something like: "Oh, yeah. Now I get it. That's clever." And, for the record, I have known professionals with the above cited titles on their business cards, in their bios, or in their company's promotional literature.

My own favorite is bridge-builder. I've used it on business cards and letterheads since I retired from university teaching several years ago. Actually, I used it in conversations and presentations for decades before that. - But, the university forbade me to put it on my business cards while I was still under contract. - I like it because it's catchy and because it's equally appropriate for explaining what I did and still do as a public relations consultant and as a teacher. I've been building bridges of communication my entire professional life.

Read the full version of this article.     

This site was on Northern Kentucky University servers while I taught there, and it remained there for quite a while after I retired.
Then the university announced it would no longer support "personal faculty websites" like this one, and I had to move it.

NOTE TO PHONE USERS: This is the only page on this site formatted for easy reading on a phone-sized screen. The site is best viewed on a desktop or full-sized laptop.
Updated: 5/15/2018