Expert Panelists Give the 411 on Crisis Communications

Photo by Tim Long

By Ashley Jones

PR professionals of all levels, including eager students ready to enter the field, gathered this past Thursday to tackle the elephant in the room – crisis communication and management. While only a piece of the puzzle that comprises the entirety of PR, crisis communication is undoubtedly one of the more well-known components of our industry to those outside of the profession and one of the most challenging and rewarding aspects to those working in it every day.

It can be daunting to have a brand’s reputation and the success of their business relying on your team’s shoulders – particularly in this digital age where information spreads across screens like wildfire. Though a far cry from the medical field, crisis communications can best be described as the “brain surgery of PR” – we must be informed on each individual case, spot on in our approach and execution, and anticipatory of any setbacks that may require alternate tactics. So, how do we ensure we’re equipped to take on the worst? We turned to our expert veterans in the field to share their experience, advice, and best practices.

Moderated by Robin Rectenwald, Account Supervisor, WordWrite Communications LLC, a packed room in Point Park University’s media center listened to, and interacted with, a talented panel consisting of Paul Furiga, President & CEO, WordWrite Communications LLC; Cooper Munroe, CEO, The Motherhood Inc.; and Nick Paradise, Director of Public Relations & Social Media, Kennywood. For those who were unable to attend, a quick recap:

  • What is a crisis?
    • Paul Furiga likened crisis situations to a pot of water on the burner. Issues that cause the water to simmer can eventually boil over when left untreated or handled incorrectly, eventually becoming a crisis that can burn down the kitchen and leave lasting devastating effects.
  • Across industries, what are the common threads of crises and advice you give clients?
    • According to research, 95% of crises can be anticipated or avoided. Cooper Munroe reminded us that we live in an age of outrage. We’re emotional beings that have been provided digital vessels to react during our most vulnerable moments to delicate situations. PR teams need to have efficient processes and templates in place for clients to ensure lightning speed action and response. It’s all about proficiency and transparency.
  • What happens when the media calls about a crisis?
    • When you pick up the phone and a reporter is on the other end in a moment of crisis, remember to ask/say these three things: “What’s the story?,” “What’s your deadline?,” and “Let me get back to you.” The media is neither friend or foe, be as professional as possible and return accurate information to them as soon as possible.
  • How do you handle a viral media post?
    • Nick Paradise prompted us to remember a moment in time can live forever on social media. We were reminded to take a step back to assess the situation. Does a post need a response? Does the conversation need to be taken offline? Sometimes the best thing we can do is redirect to the positives and rely on our influencers and supporters to defend us.
  • What should companies do to return to normalcy?
    • With crises there are three steps: stop the bleeding, win hearts and minds, and restore reputation. Based on the degree of the crisis, timelines for each of these vary. However, having a thoughtful plan of action, professional execution, and consistency is pertinent to overcome the challenge.

After an informative hour and a half, it was clear: never mind our levels of expertise, when it comes to crisis communications we must rely on the capabilities of ourselves and our colleagues. The success of solving a crisis requires a strong, communicative PR team that practices timeliness, perspective, proficiency, transparency, and authenticity for their clients.

Thank you to our excellent moderator and panelists for extending their time and expertise to support the success of others in the field and thank you to all who attended. Be sure to join us at our happy hour on Thursday, September 27 from 5:30PM to 7:30PM at Pig Iron in Cranberry, PA.


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