Timeline of a PR Crisis

A public relations crisis can occur to any organization, company or industry at any time. Whether the product distributed is exploding in people’s pockets, or the company is accused of excluding diversity, a crisis is a big deal. Companies need to be prepared no matter what the crisis is by having a strategic communication plan prepared. This is not always the case, and people are not always ready when the problem arises. To understand how to plan for a crisis, an understanding of what a crisis is, as well as the timeline of public relations strategies is necessary. Follow these steps when creating your strategic communication plan:


A crisis begins when it is detected. This is an extremely important step in a crisis management because the nature of the crisis determines how it should be handled. Some crisis situations have warning signs, and if those warning signs are ignored by a company, the public perception of the crisis worsens. The Tylenol tampering case, a well-known crisis, was a situation that Johnson & Johnson did not foresee. The company received a phone call from a reporter which prompted further action by the company; this action uncovered the deaths were caused by their product. After the Tylenol tampering case, many pharmaceutical companies adapted their products to include tamper-proof containers. If a company can detect warning signs before they become a crisis, prevention methods can be taken.

Prevention and Preparation.

After detection occurs, the next step is to plan and prepare the organization to handle the crisis. Organizations should already have a crisis communication plan in place; and, in this stage, it should be initiated. This is where you complete the most research in order to fully understand what happened. In the example used previously, pharmaceutical companies learned what happened with Johnson & Johnson and used the information to adapt their crisis prevention strategies. The companies embraced new tamper-proof containers as a way to combat a potential similar crisis. This stage is where the planning for containment takes place.


An organization needs to contain the crisis. This can be by responding to the crisis in a timely manner, or choosing the best ways to handle the crisis. How an organization handles the crisis depends on what decisions were made within the planning and preparation stage. Think of containment as when and how the organization responds. For example, when Pepsi released an advertisement during the syringe-in-a-can crisis, its purpose was to end the crisis after no evidence was found.


After the crisis communication plan is followed through, the organization must recover its reputation and the trust of the public. This stage allows the organization to focus on itself, and how it will maintain or repair its reputation. This stage often blends into the learning stage.


Following a crisis, an organization needs to reflect and learn from it. The learning stage is important because this is where an organization is able to analyze its actions and determine what tactics were done well, as well as what could be improved. The key to this stage is then taking what was learned and incorporating it into crisis communication strategies for future use.

For each facet of a public relations crisis, there is research available that gives more specific instructions and detailed explanations on how to respond to a crisis, and why certain responses are better than others. Crises may appear differently from organization to organization, but the basic timeline of a crisis remains the same.

Amanda Troncone is a sophomore public relations student, and serves as the professional development coordinator for Waynesburg University Public Relations Student Society of America. She hopes to someday partner her passion with public relations to pursue a career in the non-profit sector. Follow Amanda on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.


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