PR Basics: What is Crisis Management in Public Relations?

Promo Panda Staff
Staff Writer for Promo Panda

If you’re going to be working in public relations then it’s essential that you understand crisis management, both what it is and how it tends to work within the scope of professional public relations services. 

In this article, we will walk you through the definition of crisis management in a PR setting and then discuss some of the key components of successful crisis management efforts when a problem does in fact arise. 

Defining crisis management 

What is crisis management in public relations? The definition of the term is simple enough. Crisis management is how a PR team responds to a crisis situation, regardless of the nature of the crisis. 

Some common examples of problems that require crisis management efforts would include things like a product defect, a substantial lack of product availability, public outcry in response to a product or a company action, and government intervention in a company’s offerings or attempted regulation of those offerings.

One recent example of PR crisis management is Electronic Arts’ efforts to defend the use of specific monetization techniques within many of their games, especially loot boxes, which offer a small chance of receiving trivial in-game rewards in exchange for real-world money. 

Since many of their games are aimed at children, different national governments have pursued legal action against the company, specifically to categorize these game mechanics as a form of gambling. 

EA’s crisis management efforts in response to this scrutiny included online Q&A sessions, legal hearings, and an attempted rebranding of loot boxes as “surprise mechanics.” 

This situation also serves as an example of largely unsuccessful crisis management, which can be attributed to lackluster response and a perceived sense of dishonesty.  

What do you need to achieve effective crisis management? 

Now we will take a look at the different components of successful crisis management from a PR team. These are the tools and the methods you’ll need to use if you want to avoid a worst-case scenario following a crisis.   

It’s also worth noting that successful crisis management tactics can also come from years of experience dealing with problems and adapting to each situation. 

But even if you’re just starting out, keeping all of these things in mind will help you navigate crises with skill and patience. 

what is crisis management in public relations

Strategy 

PR strategy is a large concept that we’ve talked about elsewhere, but in a condensed form, PR strategy is a well-thought-out plan that a PR team creates well in advance of a PR campaign. 

It helps to dictate how common PR activities and special campaigns should be conducted. One of the most important aspects of any PR strategy is detailing how the team should respond, should problems arise. 

Rather than being a step that takes place during a crisis, this is something that should always be part of the planning stages. 

Part of creating an effective PR strategy, and especially a strategy for crisis situations, is sitting down with the client and determining in advance what problems could possibly arise. 

Obviously, companies try to create solid products and services that won’t upset customers, but even with reliable manufacturing pipelines and proven methods, things can still go wrong, either due to systematic or human error. 

Use some critical thinking to imagine what might happen a year from now, three years from now, or even ten. 

What could possibly go wrong? What mistakes could be made? Is it likely that a brand representative might say something problematic? 

In this stage, it’s always better to overestimate than it is to underestimate. Assume the worst so that the entire PR team can be well prepared for difficult situations. 

Once you have what you feel is a comprehensive list of potential worst-case scenarios, then you can move on the next step of strategizing, which is to figure out what the response should be for each possible situation. 

If one of the potential issues is a product defect, then create a plan for how the company should respond. Should there be a televised apology? Will there be an immediate recall? Based on the severity of the defect, should you air a series of commercials that address the situation and notify customers of how the brand will make things better? 

Knowing what to do in a crisis situation will do a lot to cut down on confusion and hectic action. Everyone will feel more comfortable doing what they need to do to fix things, and that’s what planning is all about. 

Solid leadership 

Good leadership is important at all times, but it’s especially crucial during a crisis. If a ship was starting to sink, you wouldn’t want the captain to be yelling frantic instructions to a panicking crew. 

what is crisis management in PR

Making sure that the management team within the PR agency is trained properly for crisis situations is extremely important, and it should be a part of management training from the very start. 

That way, even if lower-level employees start to panic during a difficult situation, leadership will be able to keep everything in order, and employees will be more confident in their work knowing that there is a definite plan in place. 

Management needs to keep an air of strength and competence during these tough times. If they do, then everyone else is likely to perform better and achieve the necessary results. 

A hardworking team 

Everything in PR boils down to the strength of the team you’re working with. Every member of the team is important, no matter what their tasks are. 

Training your team to be ready to work all the time is important, and it will set a helpful precedent for when a crisis does happen to arise. 

Knowing that you can count on your team to put in some extra hours as needed while still giving them the breaks they need to stay healthy is a huge asset when you find yourself operating under very difficult circumstances. 

Creating a positive environment where everyone feels trusted and useful will keep the workplace productive and will make sure that your employees are ready to handle anything and everything. 

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