Surviving a PR Crisis

By Karen Crummy

Published April 5, 2024

Warren Buffet famously said that it takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. 

This is especially good advice to keep in mind when your organization is hit with a PR crisis – and all organizations are vulnerable to a crisis that could impact their reputation and financial bottom line.
The decisions made in the first 24 hours will shape what happens in the days and weeks to come.

Unfortunately, we often see organizations make the same mistakes over and over again, which exacerbates the original crisis, and at times, creates an entirely new one.

Below are five mistakes to avoid at the outset of a crisis:

  1. Not having a crisis communications plan in place. Okay, this is technically before the crisis, but it’s one of those things organizations always say they meant to do but never got around to it before the crisis. You need to do it. The plan sets out the response teams, the public spokesperson, the appropriate communication channels, protocols, and procedures triggered when specific events occur and appropriate potential messaging. You won’t have time to figure all of this out when a crisis hits.
  2. Thinking the issue isn’t that big of a deal, and it will blow over. One, it won’t. It will likely snowball. News travels around the world on social media in seconds. Two, you need to get out front to establish the narrative, otherwise your organization and the crisis will be defined by others, including the media.
  3. Failing to communicate internally with your employees before the media, stakeholders and customers. This is a delicate balance, and you will likely have to communicate with employees immediately prior to going public, but the last thing you want is for your employees to hear about a crisis on the news.
  4. Not being forthright with the media. Tell the truth. Be transparent. Take responsibility. Don’t be defensive. Definitely don’t ever say “no comment.” If there are questions you don’t know the answer to yet, then say that but don’t speculate. Make sure your spokesperson is consistent and prepped ahead of time.
  5. Not addressing the right audiences with the right message on the right channels. It’s critical to tailor your narrative to your most important audiences – customers, stakeholders, etc. – and put it out on all of the platforms you know they use the most often. You want to make sure they hear any news from you first.

These are just some of the many stages of effectively managing a crisis but if handled correctly at the outset, it puts your organization in the best position to successfully weather the storm.

Karen Crummy

Karen is a nationally renowned communication consultant who built her reputation as an award-winning political journalist and investigative reporter with The Boston Herald and The Denver Post.

Her journalism background combined with her experience as a former civil rights lawyer has established Karen as a leader in the communications space, guiding public relations and policy strategies for Fortune 500 CEOs, corporations, high stakes political campaigns, white collar criminal and civil trials and numerous industries and individuals needing crisis communications.

Karen has interviewed U.S. Presidents, vice presidents, senators, and representatives, and she has traveled on planes, trains, buses, and pickup trucks covering campaigns at the federal, state, and local level and talking to candidates and voters across the country. Karen has moderated gubernatorial and U.S. Senate debates and been interviewed by Fox, CNN, C-SPAN, MSNBC, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The L.A. Times and other national and local newspapers and radio. ​​She received a B.A. in history and M.A. in journalism from the University of Colorado at Boulder and a J.D. from the University of San Francisco School of Law.