Ask the Expert: Plan for the When the Worst Happens

By Levente McCrary

As communications professionals, we are skilled in spreading the news of our associations’ good deeds. While those efforts inevitably support your strategic plan, it’s just as important to think about crisis situations that may derail those plans for a bit. While each crisis has its own twist that requires a slightly different strategy, crises all have a few things in common. So, stick to the basics when creating a plan, that way you have a good starting place should a crisis arise.

What Should I Do When a Crisis Happens?

When a crisis strikes, the first thing you should do is reach for your crisis communications plan. Hopefully you have already created one that’s been shared and adopted throughout your association. The plan should walk you through appropriate, pre-approved responses for various situations. Adapt these responses as needed to your current situation. The plan should also outline your approved spokespersons and trigger a communications cascade to alert everyone who needs to know about the situation.

Now comes time for immediate “need-to-know” meetings. Gather everyone who needs the details into one room and/or on a conference call to dump all the facts. As PR professionals, we can help only as much as we know. The trust built with your PR team – internal and external – is important. We cannot help a situation when we don’t know what truly happened. That includes the who, what, why and how. We understand that these facts cannot always be shared thoroughly, but we must have a complete and honest picture in order to determine the best course.

Once all the facts have been shared with the communications team, it’s time to “rip the Band-Aid.” It’s important to get as many of the facts out to the public as quickly as possible. Why is that important? Because people appreciate transparency. The truth has a way of coming out. Don’t hide key details because you think it will look bad. The quicker the unflattering news is out, the faster you can deal with it and hopefully move on.

How Do You Move On and Convince the Public to Trust You Again?

At this point, you’ve shared all your facts and weathered much of the storm. You’re ready to get back to business. But you can’t just ignore everything that’s happened. So, how do you start that process? Most importantly, if you’re in the wrong, apologize – and mean it. While this strategy has nearly become the norm in a crisis these days, it’s still important to do. The challenge now is that you want to be sincere. People and companies are quick to apologize, but those words need to have meaningful context. Being sensitive to the crisis and showing humility will go a long way.

The last component to this strategy is to demonstrate change. Inevitably, if there’s a crisis, it means something didn’t go as it should have. It’s important to show your public that a lesson was learned and discuss what steps the company will take to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

Here’s one last tip: Remain calm. There will be a lot of worry in a crisis situation, including worry about the events that led you there and what the outcome will be. It’s up to us to walk everyone through the process to arrive at the best possible result and regain your public’s confidence.

Levente McCrary is Vice President, Account Management at Elizabeth Christian Public Relations, a public relations firm specializing in projects involving media relations, video production, legislative and grassroots efforts, social media planning and execution, business development, event planning and crisis communications. To learn more, visit

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