The Ultimate Crisis Management Plan [The PR Playbook]

by | Oct 5, 2023

We’d all like to think we respond well under pressure. Unfortunately, that is not always the case for many companies in crisis. That’s why a well thought out crisis management plan is crucial. It serves as your blueprint to steer you through a crisis so you respond swiftly and safely while resuming normal business operations.


A robust crisis management plan serves as a forward-thinking strategy, helping you anticipate challenges while ensuring your company is resilient in the face of adversity. It also fosters a culture where crises are embraced as opportunities for growth.


Industry leaders like Maple Leaf Foods and JetBlue are shining examples of companies that emerged stronger from a crisis. While staying true to their vision and mission, these companies enhanced their communication with customers and strengthened their reputation. Their success is not magic; it’s a solid crisis management plan.


PR Crisis Examples


In this digital era, organizations can hit bumps in the road and encounter PR nightmares. That’s why it’s important to see around corners to spot potential issues and manage them before they spark a crisis.


Workplace Accident


You may be wondering, “what is a common PR crisis?” A workplace accident stands out prominently. Imagine a scenario where an employee is injured at work. This unfortunate incident not only impacts the employee, it can also tarnish the company’s reputation if not handled properly.

Employees may feel anxious about their safety. The media will start asking questions, and soon negative headlines will pour in. This presents a PR nightmare for the company. That’s why an effective crisis communication plan is vital. It ensures senior management know what to do and how to respond. Empathy for those affected, transparency and working to resolve the issue that caused the accident will reassure employees and instil confidence in leadership.




In our interconnected digital world, cyberattacks are inevitable. Recently, MGM Resorts faced a significant cyber-attack that affected one of its largest properties. Systems were shut down, ATMs and machines were out of order, employees experienced delayed payments and guests had their personal information compromised. Cyber criminals are becoming more sophisticated and have even penetrated several key government agencies.

In these circumstances, customers question safety of their personal data, leading to a loss of sales, and negative media headlines. Crisis management is not about damage control; it is about restoring confidence and trust in your brand.

By promptly acknowledging the breach, consistently communicating with impacted customers, and taking corrective measures, businesses can navigate this digital minefield. A seasoned strategic communication professional can also guide companies safely through the storm with their reputation intact and enhanced.


Supply Chain Issues


The globalized world has its perks, but it’s not without its challenges. While the recent global supply chain crisis has impacted everyone from car manufacturers, to consumer electronics, you still have  to manage expectations.

Stakeholders might question the company’s efficiency, while customers could turn to competitors. Effective and consistent communication is the key. It’s about being transparent about the challenges, whether they’re due to geopolitical issues, natural disasters, or logistical hiccups. By keeping all parties informed while offering solutions or alternatives, businesses can mitigate the negative impact and even strengthen their relationship with their stakeholders.


Product Failure


The excitement of a new product launch can quickly turn into a PR fiasco if the product fails to meet expectations or has defects. Remember the backlash some tech giants like Samsung and Tesla faced with faulty products? The immediate reaction from the public is disappointment, which can quickly turn into anger and mistrust.

But here’s the silver lining: with a solid PR crisis management plan, this setback can be turned around. It’s about acknowledging the issue, recalling faulty products, and ensuring customers that corrective measures are in place. More than that, it’s about showing genuine concern for the inconvenience caused. With the right communication strategy, a product failure serves as a stepping stone to building a more transparent and customer-centric brand.


Social Media PR Crisis


In this digital age a tweet can make or break a brand. Social media is a powerful tool, but it’s also a volatile platform. A negative tweet, a misunderstood ad campaign, or an insensitive comment can snowball into a massive PR crisis overnight. The right tactics and strategy, can turn this challenge into an opportunity.

It’s about timely responses, taking accountability, sincere apologies where needed, and transparent communication. Engaging directly with your stakeholders, addressing their concerns, and even leveraging influencers can help shape the narrative. Being proactive and authentic in your communication approach is the key to weathering any social media storm.


The Ultimate Crisis Management Plan


Navigating a crisis requires a well-thought-out plan. It’s not just about reacting; it’s about being proactive, prepared, and ready to respond to any challenge that comes your way. Let’s delve into the components of crafting a solid crisis management plan.


1. Activation Guidelines


Every crisis presents differently.  Some might be minor hiccups, while others can threaten the very existence of your organization.

Prioritizing your risks helps identify the greatest threat to your objectives and resources.

You can use a simple indicator, such as the highest impact and highest likelihood risks are the most urgent and important, while the lowest impact and lowest likelihood risks are the least urgent and important.

For instance, a minor product defect might be a Level 1, while a major cyberattack could be a Level 5. Each level should have its internal and external escalation protocols. This ensures that the right people are informed and involved at the right time, ensuring a swift and effective response.


2. Establish Chain of Command


In the heat of a crisis, clarity is crucial. An organizational chart should be in place, outlining the hierarchy of decision-making. Who holds the final authority? Who reports to whom? This chart ensures that decisions are made efficiently, without the chaos of too many cooks in the kitchen. It also ensures that every team member knows their place in the larger scheme of things, streamlining the response process.


3. Roles and Responsibilities


A Crisis Comms Team is like a well-oiled machine, with each team member playing a crucial role. Clearly defining who is on the team and delegating roles and responsibilities will ensure no important tasks are missed in the moment of dealing with a crisis.

Whether it’s the spokesperson who addresses the media, the IT expert who handles cyber threats, or the VP of engineering who addresses product issues, everyone should know their role and what they’re responsible for. This clarity ensures that in the face of a crisis, everyone hits the ground running.


4. Response Action Plans


In the chaos of a crisis, it’s easy to overlook tasks. That’s where a crisis management checklist comes into play. List every task, assign an owner, and set timelines for completion. This checklist acts as a roadmap, ensuring that no stone is left unturned and every aspect of the crisis is addressed.


5. Pre-approved Hold Statements and Key Messaging


Time is of the essence in a crisis. Draft communications in advance and have them pre-approved by the relevant authorities. Whether that’s someone in your marketing department or an external crisis manager. This ensures that you can respond swiftly without waiting for approvals. These drafts should be versatile, catering to various potential crises. Additionally, an FAQ section can address common concerns, ensuring that your communication is comprehensive and leaves no room for speculation.


6. Internal Comms Plan


Your internal team is your first line of defense in a crisis. Have a database with contact information for all crisis management team members. This isn’t just limited to your internal team. Include external consultants, legal department, subject matter experts, or anyone else you might need to call upon. Effective internal communication ensures a united front when addressing the crisis externally.


7. External Comms Plan


Having a solid external comms plan is at the heart of any crisis management plan. Your stakeholders, the media, and the public will be looking to you for answers. Develop a robust plan for communicating with them. Decide on the platforms – press releases, social media, press conferences, website, and more. Determine the frequency of updates. In today’s digital age, silence can be misconstrued as evasion. Regular, transparent updates can help control the narrative and maintain trust.


8. Resources


In a crisis, resources can range from the tangible to the informational. Think about what your crisis team might need. If you’re in construction, this could be hardhats and steel-toe boots. But also consider informational resources. Facility blueprints can be invaluable in emergencies like fires, ensuring that emergency services can navigate the premises effectively. Always be prepared, ensuring that your team has everything they need at their fingertips.


PR and Media Training


The do-it-yourself approach is only so effective. If you have a brand image to uphold, it would be wise to consult with a professional crisis management firm. However, picking the wrong firm can add to your challenges.

If you need PR and media training in your organization, it’s best to partner with a crisis management firm that has PR and media experience. Who better to help you with media relations than professionals with past media experience. Those who have been on the other side of what your company is going through.


Looking for a Crisis Management Firm?


At Solv Communications, we can help you build and implement a crisis management and communications plan that is tailored to your organization. We also offer realistic, scenario-based media training for you and your team. This includes live, on-camera simulated training and preparing for potential questions based on various risk scenarios.

Our diverse expertise and experience as strategic communicators and former television journalists, ensure that you are fully prepared and ready to handle every questions you can get by a stakeholder or the media. It’s our mission to steer organizations through any crisis safety and swiftly so they can get to normal business operations.


Nicole Harris

Nicole Harris is the Founder and CEO of Solv Communications, a leading Reputation Management and PR agency in the Prairies. As a former network television news anchor and reporter, Nicole has gained deep insight into the power of earning trust through strategic communication. Over her 15-year career in the media she has covered some of the most high- profile risk management stories including cyber breaches at Fortune 500 companies, product recalls, workplace violence and everything in between. Nicole and her team’s extensive industry knowledge and strategic guidance will help you focus on what is in your control to mitigate risk and minimize damage to your reputation. It’s all about prioritizing strategic planning to spot an issue, effectively manage it, and develop action plans to safely steer you through any situation before it damages your reputation. Nicole has developed and delivered bespoke reputation management, strategic, and media training for senior executives, board members, politicians, and celebrities.