Let’s face it, crisis communications is one thing very few PR practitioners want to think about—outside of those who specialize in it, of course. Planning for or knowing that something bad is coming down the pike is unpleasant for a variety of reasons: the stress, the volume, the potential for long-term damage to a person or brand if it isn’t handled right, and the unknown factor of how the media will handle the issue.
That doesn’t mean you can’t be prepared for a crisis—it just means there will always be some unknowns. While you cannot prep for everything, there are ways that your media monitoring can make a crisis more manageable, better prepared, and on the back end, provide you with valuable data so that you can use what you’ve learned from one crisis to be even better prepared for the next one.
Before a crisis hits
The best time to prepare for a crisis is before one is on the horizon (or is in progress). Taking the time to set up keywords that could potentially forewarn you is time well spent. Try and think of crisis keywords that are specific enough to identify a problem but not so specific they miss something. Research is helpful—if your company or a competitor has experienced a crisis before, take a look at that coverage to see what words or phrases might be useful.
Don’t count on your broader keywords to do all of the heavy lifting: first of all, overly broad keywords overproduce content, which makes it more likely that something will get skipped over or missed. Second of all, setting up keywords that are specifically targeted to a potential crisis means that you can set up an alert so you’ll be notified as soon as that combination of words is discovered—which could give you valuable warning time. Also, have a crisis plan in place, and make sure that multiple people know how to use your monitoring system and add keywords.
During a crisis
It’s really hard to think of everything you need to be doing when a crisis hits, which is why having a plan in place is so important. One person who knows the system should be reviewing any crisis coverage that is coming in and based on that review, should add or modify keywords if necessary as soon as possible. This might seem unnecessary, but this step can help you triage content, especially if you have multiple people working on the PR for a crisis.
For example, if there has been a fatal industrial accident caused by an explosion, there are most likely going to be different aspects of the PR crisis that need to be handled: one, the fatalities; two, the potential for environmental damage to the surrounding area; three, if it’s a national company there will be national press involved, and so on. By having keywords set up that address each of these factors, the coverage that most closely matches each area can be funneled to the appropriate teams. It is a time-saver and that means better crisis management.
After a crisis
When news coverage begins to slow down, the understandable instinct is to move on—but please, take the time to revisit the coverage. If you don’t use automated sentiment analysis, go back and at least rate the most important coverage (major news sources, important local sources, trade or industry publications, etc.). And, if you do use automated sentiment, go back and make sure what has been rated is accurate. Review how tone changed over the term of the crisis. If there was a change, make note of the publication and reporter, and see if outreach might have played a role in the change.
In other words, take time to do a post-crisis analysis. What you learn from carefully examining what happened will help you to prevent or prepare for the next crisis.