PR book On-line Readings in Public Relations by Michael Turney
Coping when a public relations crisis occurs
© 2002; 2018 Michael Turney Table of contents Practicing Public Relations
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When a crisis arises, don't be so eager to speak or to act that you do so without thinking.

Heed the recommendation Wyatt Earp offered when he was asked the best way to survive a gunfight.
Earp advised, "Take your time quickly, and aim carefully."

Respond quickly and forcefully, but think long-term.

Crisis managers are nearly unanimous in recommending that any organization that experiences a crisis should try to get it resolved and out of the public eye as quickly as possible. Studies have consistently shown that the longer an individual or an organization is perceived as being "in crisis," the more negative the media coverage of the crisis situation becomes and the lower the organization slips in public opinion. A quick resolution of the crisis, coupled with effective communication of this resolution, is the best way to minimize damage to the organization's reputation.

However, in achieving this quick resolution, it's imperative to remain focused on the overall mission of the organization and not get side-tracked by the threat, excitement, or emotionalism of the crisis. Staying focused is imperative. It's also imperative to keep the other members of the organization focused and in touch with reality. As pr reporter (11/12/01) reminded readers: "Keep the negatives in perspective. Managers, reading about themselves in the paper, will often perceive the fallout as worse than it really is. Making sure that their organization always has a handle on customer perception and satisfaction helps practitioners provide better counsel to senior management."

The pubic relations staff must constantly and pointedly remind both the organization's managers and its key publics of its stated mission and goals, as well as reporting the current opinions and needs of these publics to management. Even they're in the midst of a crisis, neither top management nor the public relations staff can afford to overlook critical audiences because of the excitement of the moment. Yes, the crisis demands an immediate response, but the public relations staff's over-riding responsibility is always to maintain a long-term perspective and strive to enhance their organization's continuing relationships with all of its important publics.

Use these seven steps to "ratchet" the crisis down.



As soon as you become aware of the impending or actual crisis, help your organization realize that it has a problem and that it needs to deal with the problem now. Don't deny what's happening, and don't expect it to disappear if you ignore it.


Study the situation as thoroughly as time permits and quickly decide what needs to be said about it: to whom and in what ways. While this assessment is in process, never deny what's happening. Don't volunteer information, but do answer questions as honestly and as fully as you can with your current level of knowledge.


From your organization's existing list of target audiences, select those most in need of knowing about the crisis and develop specific messages for each of them. These messages should differ from one another based on each audience's importance to your organization and the specific ways that it is being affected by the crisis.


Disseminate the planned messages to the target audiences and carefully listen for their reactions so you can revise and/or repeat them as necessary for maximum effect.


Listen to your target audiences and pay close attention to their responses. Also note any additional reactions you receive from secondary or unintended audiences. What all of your audienceswant and think they need to hear is far more important than what you want them to hear.


As the crisis unfolds, check for and be aware of any changes in your publics' attitudes towards your organization. Do they perceive the situation as a crisis? Do they share the organization's view of the situation? Have you achieved your crisis communication goal with each of these publics?


Shift from crisis mode back to your normal communication mode as soon as possible. Or, return to the beginning of the RATCHET cycle and go through the steps again if necessary.


Keep listening and respond when necessary.

As the crisis unfolds and even after it appears to be resolved, monitor as many news media, radio talk shows, and relevant Internet bulletin boards as possible to be aware of what's being said about your crisis and your organization's role in it. But, don't respond just for the sake of responding or make statements just to avoid staying silent. Speak when there's something relevant that needs to be said to a particular target audience to accomplish a specific purpose.

In most instances, if the news reports and other comments you hear are factually accurate, even though they may be unflattering and reflect negatively on your organization, it is probably best to ignore them and not call further attention to them by trying to directly contradict them. But, if erroneous information is reported, try to correct it by presenting indisputable factual information as quickly as possible.

In everything that's said, be as candid and open as possible. Don't needlessly withhold information, and don't minimize or underestimate the seriousness of the situation. Above all, don't lie!

And, as stated above, constantly keep yourself and other members of the organization focused on the organization's mission and the needs of its key publics. Don't overlook an audience that will be critical in the long run because you've gotten caught up in the drama of a momentary crisis.

Overview of crisis communication
Crisis portal page
Stay well-informed to be ready
when a crisis hits
Performing public relations in a crisis
Crisis communication:
The Olympics of public relations.
No Comment is never appropriate Don't be a crisis hypochondriac
Planning for crisis communication Six Steps to Preparing a Rudimentary
Crisis Communication Plan
Practicing Public Relations
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3 August 2018