How To Handle When Things Go Sour

In PR it’s not always rainbows and butterflies when it comes to representing a company or individual. There are always things that can go wrong…

This post we are discussing how to manage issues and crisis in PR and giving some tips and hints for when push comes to shove.

A Tissue for your Issue

Issues and crises are not straightforward and depending on what role you are working in you could face various types of problems and situations to push through.

So what is the different between an issue and a crisis?

An issue can arise from may things including misunderstandings between an organisation and stakeholders to general miscommunication problems. They tend to develop overtime and can be the beginning of a crisis if not managed quickly. The term ‘tipping point’ is used to describe the time when a issue becomes a crisis.

A crisis can have a much larger impact upon a organisation or individual and can reach the point of permanent damage to reputation. A crisis can be a revelation, situation, emergency or large scale event that negatively affects an organisation or individual. There are two different types of crisis:

Cobra Crisis: A crisis that happens with no warning and is completely unexpected.

Python Crisis: A crisis that slowly escalates due to unmanaged issues.

Here are some examples of issues PR practitioners can face:

  • Results from products or service that may harm people: fast food linked with obesity, radiation linked with mobile use.
  • Practices within the organisation that affect stakeholders: pay bonuses or benefits for senior staff.

Here are some examples of crises that PR practitioners can face:

  • Practices that can impact the environment: oil spills, high co2 emissions.
  • Unethical or illegal practice: fraud, embezzlement.
  • Accidents or events that injure or kill people: fire or fights at protests or rallies.
(16-1, Understanding Issues and Crises and Issue Management)

The Dealing Process

Now we’ve discussed the types of issues and crises, let’s have a look at how to most importantly deal with them. There’s no set way to manage a crisis or issue, but it’s all about the preparation and planning for those sticky situations.

As Coombs (2007) explains in his article  Crisis Management and Communications, there are many ways to help prepare yourself for when the time comes. Check out the rest of the article for tips for further on down the management process.

Creating a Crisis Management Plan (CMP)

A CMP saves time for when everything hits the fan and it’s time to act. But a CMP isn’t a step by step guide on the process, it is a rather a reference tool containing information for the issue or crisis response. It can have information such as:

-Contact information for media etc.

-Reminders of what should be done in a crisis.

-Relevant forms to document the response.

-Information and research collected prior which can be used for reference.

Developing a Crisis Management Team

A crisis management team is very valuable for large organisations, so it will depend on what role you are working in for this practice to be useful.

A crisis management team should contain members of PR, legal, security, operations, finance and human resources. But depending on the nature of the issue or crisis other people may need to be involved too.

Another advantage to a management team is that tasks can be allocated prior to the issue which can be outlined in a CMP. That way everyone knows their role is a crisis or issue is to happen!

(Coombs, T 2007, Crisis Management and Communications, Institute for Public Relations.)

What NOT to do…

Hopefully, without scaring you into a career change, we’ve showed you how important it is to know how to prepare and manages issues and crises in PR.

Have a look at this blog called for some funny and serious examples of what not to do in issue and crisis management.

For example, someone needs to let Krispy Kreme know about this Wednesday activity…




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