Crisis is in the Future of Your Brand; It’s Time to Wake Up

It’s time to face the fact that your company will be involved in a crisis at some point and, if you’re not prepared, the damage will tough to contain.

PR Horror Stories: What happened and how we survived

While most of us consider Halloween to be the scariest day of the year, public relations crises are, unfortunately, not limited to just one day. Crisis can happen when you least expect it and, no matter how much you prepare, many PR people can be caught off guard. The goal is to plan – as much as possible – for the unexpected.

My First Crisis

The call came in late at night, well after office hours. My supervisor didn’t know much outside of the fact that someone died in a manufacturing facility. We raced to the office, feeling like we’d function better as a team in the same room. As information came in surrounding the tragedy, we learned more about the person who died – a single mom who had been employed by our client for many years. A safety aspect of the machine she worked on did not function properly. She was pulled into the machine and died quickly. A coworker found her.

Our first order of business was to help the president of the company with his public statement. To his credit, he really wasn’t interested in talking with his PR firm – he was upset and concerned for his employee’s family, her children. We had pre-written responses built into our crisis plan for the company, but given the emotion wrapped into this particular situation, we opted to update the language to reflect the president’s feelings.

Once the statement was approved, we shared it with a local newspaper reporter with whom we had a relationship. The reporter broke the story and, as it was picked up, we monitored who covered and made sure the information was accurate. As new information was available through the investigation, we reached out to those who were covering the story to ensure they had the most up-to-date and true details.

My Reoccurring Crisis

Having worked in food and beverage public relations for my entire career, the crisis I see most often relates to a bad ingredient. From spoiling to bugs to a lot of other unsavory things, food manufacturing and preparation has its share of scary things. For the purpose of this post, we’ll refer to them as “bad ingredients”.

The first step in a bad ingredients situation is to identify what caused the problem and determine how we can quickly pull the ingredient from the facility. If the bad ingredient is in multiple stores throughout the country, how can corporate be sure ALL has been pulled? The simplest, but costly answer is the best: Physically visit every location to be sure the pull has happened.

For a voluntary pull, who do you tell? Well, it’s complicated. As you’re pulling stock, have language ready for the employees working closely with the bad ingredient. Instruct them on how to handle public statements and where to pass along media inquiries. We typically ask media to speak with either our main contact with the client or a high-ranking person at our firm.

If there’s a chance the bad ingredient made its way into the hands of consumers, it’s important to communicate concisely and swiftly to ensure they’re protected. Don’t wait until people come forward claiming to be sick, or worse, that loved ones have died as a result of your delay.


With any crisis, remain calm and think through every direction the situation could take. Your role as a PR professional is to weigh the options, guide your client on protecting their brand and their customers. In a perfect world, our client’s crisis would stay quiet, behind closed doors … but we aren’t always that lucky. Be honest, be transparent and be empathetic.

When the Answer to “Who You Gonna Call?” Isn’t “Ghostbusters”

By Brandi Calhoun

Key to surviving any crisis is effective communication. How do you distribute up-to-date information clearly and quickly to a large group of people? One way is a Crisis Call Tree.

A call tree is essentially a group notification system in which a network of people is organized in such a way that information can be easily and quickly distributed. It is called a “tree” because the contacts are organized in branches, where each one contains a “head person” and a number of people who are to be called by the “head person.”

Your first step in communicating effectively will be to determine who needs to know what and when; determine who your key team members are for a crisis such as the CEO, legal counsel and a head of marketing to start. Depending on the type of crisis and size of your company, this list could include your entire Marketing Department and outside agencies like public relations and social media.

Once the crisis team has been identified, you will decide to whom each key team member needs to deliver information. Are there store managers who need to be kept in the loop? Are there lower-level employees on the marketing team helping out with the distribution of information that need to be updated? Does your social media team need to be in the loop to field questions online?

Once teams have been identified, you need to establish a method in which information can be distributed quickly and effectively. A communication protocol is established to keep everyone informed. Email chains coupled with a Google Doc can be ideal in keeping entire teams up-to-date, while phone calls are key for top people to ensure accurate information is relayed in a timely manner.  Timely communication is important. As a team, identify and stick to a plan in terms of when updates will be shared and how the information will flow.

The content of your crisis call tree should include all members of each team, divided into tiers, their title and all relevant contact information including desk phone, mobile phone and email.

Do you have other helpful or successful tips in creating a crisis call tree? Share them below!