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What Is Crisis Communication?

Crisis communication is a specialized component of public relations. Its purpose is to navigate negative scrutiny with minimum damage. Completing Southeastern Oklahoma State University’s online MBA program with an emphasis in Strategic Communication can prepare you for this aspect of a PR career.

What Is a Crisis?

When a person or entity alleges wrongdoing on the part of a celebrity, service, company or brand, a crisis results. The allegations can be about the personal lives of individuals, mismanagement, poor performance, services not rendered, injury or death caused by a product, or unethical behavior.

The higher the number of negative reports, the faster negative publicity grows. Within a short period of time, the first negative report ends up becoming just one of many. As negativity comes to dominate public perception of the entity in question, it becomes increasingly difficult to effectively counter with positive messaging, creating a crisis for the entity or brand.

Taking Action

Crisis communication professionals rely on a number of techniques to save a brand in trouble. When this is simply not possible (due to extreme negativity), their goal is to minimize long-term damage. To achieve this, professionals use social media, the press, television and any other form of communication available to counteract damaging claims.

What Crisis Communication Professionals Know

A Timely Response Is Essential

As negative momentum builds, there is no time to conduct focus groups, map out scenarios or brainstorm strategies. Crisis communication professionals must quickly and effectively respond to the situation to keep it from spinning out of control.

Stay Calm Under Pressure

Because crises can create chaotic environments, the ability to view the big picture while keeping track of many small claims and players is vital. It is also important to stay focused on the message despite conflicting reports and intense emotions.

Social Media Is Your Friend

Understanding social media and the power of electronic communication is key. When a news item goes viral, sometimes the best defense is not a direct response but a social media campaign that reinforces the positive aspects of the brand to effectively deliver a counter message.

Expect the Best; Plan for the Worst

Having a plan in place ensures that you are ready to offer a quick initial response in the event of a crisis. The simplest way to do this is to identify, ahead of time, the people in your organization who can best represent your brand in times of trouble. Any efforts to create a process after a crisis hits will only leave the company playing catch-up. A simple “We are taking this seriously and are investigating it as I speak,” from a senior executive may be all it takes to establish calm.

Key Steps During Crisis Communication

  • Assess the situation and uncover its origin.
  • Identify the areas of greatest vulnerability.
  • Address claims in a non-confrontational manner.
  • Respond to allegations honestly without making premature promises.
  • Prepare generic messages of varying levels of intensity for use in future crises.
  • Identify the strengths and weaknesses of social media platforms during a crisis.
  • Establish internal communication protocol in the event of a crisis.

A skilled crisis communication professional can safely guide a client through a period of intense negative scrutiny, all while protecting the brand and minimizing short- and long-term damage.

Learn more about the SOSU online MBA with an emphasis in Strategic Communication program.


Bernstein Crisis Management: The 10 Steps of Crisis Communications

Inc.: 7 Critical Steps to Crisis Management

Forbes: 10 Tips for Reputation and Crisis Management in the Digital World

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