by | Small Business |


Public relations crises pose a threat to businesses across the US. From product safety issues and violent incidents to data breaches and customer service fails, crises are a common occurrence. Too often, defensive responses from company leaders further damage reputations, stoke anger from the public and may even draw attention from lawyers and regulators.

According to Burson-Marsteller, 4 of 5 decision makers believe they are only 12 months from a potential crisis. 55 percent of US business decision makers have experienced a crisis at a company they’ve worked for. 46 percent don’t have a crisis management plan. Handling a crisis effectively is no easy task. With today’s 24-hour news cycle and the prevalence of social media, companies must respond quickly and intelligently to minimize the damage.

How to handle a public relations crisis

While a crisis is always bad, it brings an opportunity for a business to hold tough under pressure, show a commitment to its ethics and demonstrate respect for the people who are affected. Leadership’s first priority is to give communications teams the right guidance to handle messaging, outreach and repair efforts. In an article featured by the Institute for Public Relations, Dr. W. Timothy Coombs outlines best practices to manage a public relations crisis. There are three phases: pre-crisis, crisis response and post-crisis.


The article explains that businesses can better handle crises with a plan, which provides important information and speeds up communications responses. Best practices include:

  1. Have a crisis management plan with a list of stakeholders, responsibilities/roles and reminders of what to do during a crisis
  2. Have a designated team for public relations, legal issues, security, human resources and social media
  3. Conduct exercises at least annually to test the crisis management plan and team
  4. Pre-draft selected messages and templates for crisis statements, and have a space on the company website to communicate to the public

Crisis response

The crisis response to stakeholders has to be consistent, fast and appropriate to the issue at hand. Leaders may be tempted to respond defensively or make promises they can’t keep. The priority should be to respond quickly, with just the facts, to stakeholders and the media.

Best practices include:

  1. Be quick and try to have an initial response within the first hour
  2. Be accurate by carefully checking all facts
  3. Make public safety the number one priority, and express concern if there are any victims
  4. Remember to include employees in the initial response


After a crisis happens, the business should show its commitment to making corrective actions to reduce the risk of a similar event happening again. The article outlines best practices for what to do in the aftermath of a crisis:

  1. Deliver all information promised to stakeholders as soon as it is known
  2. Keep stakeholders updated on the progress of recovery efforts
  3. Analyze the crisis response for lessons, and integrate them in to the business’s crisis management plan
  4. If people have been harmed, consult with victims and their families to determine the business’s role in any anniversary events or memorials

Having a solid plan and establishing teams can help ensure an effective response should a crisis happen. The way that a company responds during a crisis can make all the difference in maintaining its reputation and keeping its customers.


Acadia Insurance is pleased to share this material with its customers. Please note, however, that nothing in this document should be construed as legal advice or the provision of professional consulting services. This material is for general informational purposes only, and while reasonable care has been utilized in compiling this information, no warranty or representation is made as to accuracy or completeness.

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