PR practitioners play a major role in resolving a crisis for an organization. A crisis situation puts tremendous pressure on organizations to respond with concrete and thorough information as fast as possible. Experts say, how an organization responds in the first 24 hours usually determines whether the situation remains an “incident” or whether it becomes a full-blown crisis. This pressure falls to the PR practitioner, who needs to be prepared to deal with incidents and potential crisis. Part of the role of a PR practitioner is to prevent a conflict from arising in the first place and to be prepared for the worst by using environmental scanning and issues management. If the situation does turn into a crisis a PR practitioner will implicate the crisis management plan. The PR practitioner may also employ strategies to assist in negotiation or arbitration efforts. In the aftermath of a crisis the PR practitioner is responsible for restoring the organizations reputation through reputation management. PR people do not necessarily “solve” crises, instead they help create a favorable resolution for all people involved.
The three most important things a PR person can do during a crisis are:
1) Take responsibility for solving the problem and respond with accurate information within the first 24 hours of the situation.
2) Choose a communication strategy that is appropriate for the particular organization. Below is Coomb’s list of crisis communication strategies that an organization may use:
- Attack the accuser
- Corrective action
- Full apology
3) Communicate consistently and professionally during the crisis. This can be done by putting the public first, being honest, designating a single spokesperson, and being accessible.
If handled well, a crisis can be good for an organization. For example, the Tylenol Crisis in 1982. They reacted in a way that was consistent with their mission statement and is now a respected example of effective crisis management. Johnson & Johnson recalled 31 million bottles of Tylenol resulting in a loss of $100 million. They took responsibility, even though it was not their fault, and reintroduced the product with safer packaging. This proved to the public Johnson & Johnson was committed to public safety no matter the cost, which has ultimately enhanced the brand’s image. This story is also a good demonstration of the three strategies above.