By Chris Gilmour

Crisis communications is a fickle business.

What is true of one crisis is not for the next. Assessing, adapting and reacting to situations is what PR crisis management is all about.

And despite what has been written in a company’s crisis communication plan, this should only ever be used as a guideline.

Because nothing is set in stone. And while every brand wants effective communication with customers, any crisis professional will agree the term “roll with the punches” pretty much applies in all circumstances.

Which is why there are some pretty heavy misconceptions around crisis communications. So let’s bust these myths once and for all.

Always say sorry

Those who know how to manage crisis situations will tell you that an apology should not be offered unless it’s really needed. Say sorry too often and the word becomes meaningless. Crisis communication managers can advise when to say sorry – and when to come out fighting. In many cases a crisis is an uncontrollable force. Companies with bad reputations will often apologise at the drop of a hat, rather than give a clear explanation and win consumer respect. They become known for their cock-ups, rather than their customer service.

Journalists are the enemy

The importance of media in communication cannot be underestimated. But too many firms think that crisis media management means avoiding talking to the press at all costs. As frightening as a media scrum may appear, reporters can be your friends in a crisis, helping to get a message out clearly to stakeholders and set the record straight on what has happened and what is being done to fix the problem. It is well worth developing a good working relationship with media outlets – even when there is no crisis. A crisis communication plan should consider the best way of managing media relations when things go wrong, acknowledging the valuable role of media in crisis management.

crisis is a bad thing

While some may result in tragedy, there are those crises which can be turned into a positive and enhance the reputation of the company, if handled properly and sensitively. This is where effective business communication comes into play. A company which tells the truth and responds in a human way to a difficult situation can win the respect of the general public. Think of a crisis as an opportunity to show what your organisation is made of.

reputation damage is inevitable

Handle things incorrectly and yes, organisations can be destroyed.

But as explained above, show a compassionate response to a crisis and brand reputation may not be affected. In the best case scenario, it is enhanced.

One such example is Richard Branson’s handling of the Virgin train crash in Cumbria in 2009, which won him and his brand nothing but praise. He travelled back from holiday to meet passengers and crew in hospital. He went to the scene before the cause of the incident was determined, and he invited the media to his factory to reveal how important safety was in the manufacture of Virgin’s carriages. He described the train driver as a hero, and personally emailed customers to explain what had happened.

The Chairman/CEO should be spokesperson

A major element in the importance of a communication plan is knowing who is the best spokesperson for every situation. A great leader in the boardroom is not always the person to connect with a wider audience at a press conference during a crisis. Added to this, they may not have the expertise to talk about a particular matter, such as cyber attacks on the company where the IT director would have more information.

Only one person can lead

Too many voices will mean losing clarity – but if the crisis is a big incident likely to last several days then it’s wise to spread the responsibility. Putting one person in charge of the social media crisis plan might see them become an online spokesman. And if the company has multiple sites then consider using regional spokespeople. While the public may expect to hear from a figurehead, he/she can be backed up by others.

A crisis is unpredictable

Crisis management professionals will tell you that there is always a chance to anticipate vulnerabilities and potential storms on the horizon. Of course, you’ll never know how a particular situation is going to play out, but in the same way you would run a fire safety drill your organisation can run a crisis simulation to instruct staff on what to do in the event of things going wrong.


For help with crisis communications, contact us on 0800 612 9890.