How to Avoid A PR Crisis


Debra Davenport, Faculty

In the years that I’ve been a strategic communicator, I’ve heard many executives and fellow practitioners bemoan the fact that PR crises are “an inevitable aspect of doing business.” This is simply not true. Savvy communicators can implement a number of important tactics for minimizing their clients’ liability and risk. In this article, I’ll highlight a few of the most critical.

First, it’s essential that strategic communicators focus on the fundamental part of their job title – that being the word, “strategic.” Operating from a strategic position means taking a judicious, prudent, shrewd, and cautious approach to their clients’ campaigns and messaging. Conducting appropriate research should always be considered a top priority; reliable data can validate the brand promise, quash rumors, and refute truth-in-advertising claims.

Second, as the organization’s “ethical compass,” strategic communicators are responsible for ensuring truthfulness and transparency in all messaging, both external and internal. This can be accomplished by (a) careful fact and source-checking, (b) data and analytics reviews, (c) proofreading, (d) editing, and (e) the confirmation and sign-off of communication messaging by the executive team (and legal counsel, if necessary).

Third, communicators must engage their internal audience. Consider that a PR crisis can destroy morale and generate a mass exodus, leaving the company in an even more vulnerable position. That is why strategic communicators should enlist employees as brand ambassadors.

Employees are highly credible influencers who can be instrumental in thwarting – or at least minimizing – potential crises. And, should a crisis actually occur, having a strong base of loyal employees can help an organization weather the storm and rebound quickly.

Fourth, as part of their own ethical practice, communicators should make sure that their clients and/or employer organization are providing quality products, services, and customer satisfaction. In order to be effective here, communicators will need a working knowledge of best practices, benchmarks, quality control programs, and continuous improvement models so that they can (a) interface effectively with the organization’s leadership and operations teams, and (b) make appropriate quality improvement recommendations when necessary to help avoid a potential PR crisis.

Of course, communicators aren’t always privy to shady corporate secrets or unscrupulous dealings, but careful monitoring of internal chatter, online communities, stock market reports, news outlets, and industry publications will provide a solid overview of the organization and its public perceptions. If in doubt, it’s important to ask questions and do one’s due diligence. Strategic communicators must consider and protect their own professional reputations as well.

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Debra Davenport Ph.D. is a member of the online faculty of Purdue’s online Master of Science in Communication degree program. The program can be completed in just 20 months and covers numerous topics critical for advancement in the communication industry, including crisis communication, social media engagement, focus group planning and implementation, survey design and survey analysis, public relations theory, professional writing, and communication ethics.

*The views and opinions expressed are of the author and do not represent the Brian Lamb School of Communication.