How To Prepare for, Respond to, and Measure a Crisis

Please note: This piece originally appeared as a free article in the early April 2016 edition of The Measurement Advisor newsletter.


As some of you may know, I’ve been writing a column on crisis response in PR News for nearly two decades. In the early days, I’d have to search really hard to find a juicy crisis to write about. Then I set up Google Alerts to let me know every time the terms “PR nightmare,” “PR crisis,” “PR headache,” or “PR debacle” appeared anywhere. Now I have the luxury of picking and choosing among a cornucopia of corporate screw-ups. Thanks to social media and a bunch of really foolish, arrogant, or narcissistic CEOs, I’m never lacking in material.

And no matter how many columns I write and how much advice I give, the following week teaches me that the world still needs a lot more educating on how to handle a crisis. Let’s face it, most organizations are just one dumb tweet away from becoming a laughing stock on BuzzFeed.

Which is why we decided to devote this month’s editions of The Measurement Advisor to the subject of crises: How to prepare for them, how to avoid them, how to use measurement to end one faster, and much more:

  • In this Early April edition of The Measurement Advisor, I’ll share what I’ve learned from analyzing all those crises for my “Image Patrol” column, as well as how to maintain healthy relationships to keep your haters at bay.
  • In our Late April edition, we’ll walk you through the process of setting up a measurement system to alert you to and help you manage a crisis. And of course we have all the latest research from the IPRRC on what data says about responding to a crisis.

Are you a crisis newbie?

Alan Kelly
Alan Kelly, Founder & CEO of Playmaker Systems

If you are just starting to get crisis management under your belt, the good news is that there’s lots of great material out there. I love this slide show by leading crisis expert Dr. Timothy Coombs that nicely sums up his theories. Previously in The Measurement Advisor, we’ve covered the crisis research that has taken place at IPRRC, and provided advice on using your data for crisis management. If you’re looking for high-level crisis strategy check out the writings of Alan Kelly.

We hope you enjoy our April crisis coverage. To start off, here’s a perfect example of why measurement is critical in a crisis…

So what if Conan gets thrown from the water buffalo?

I was speaking to a national nonprofit organization one day when the Public Affairs manager asked me, “How do you measure the negative stuff, the crises?” I rambled on for a bit about tracking the share of negatives in an industry like defense or oil, where everyone gets negative press all the time. But the manager pointed out that since his organization was a nonprofit, thus not subject to a lot of criticism, their strategy had to be different.

So I asked him to describe the crisis he had in mind. It seems he’d put together a stunt involving a water buffalo and late night comedian Conan O’Brien. The plan was for Conan to ride the water buffalo, but the water buffalo had other ideas and threw Conan to the floor. The next day Conan—a guy who knows how to make the best of a difficult situation—made a point of dropping by to show off his bruises and describing the adventure of how he got them.

But what, I asked was the impact on the organization? The PR manager didn’t know. So I asked their digital analytics guru, who happened to also be in the room, to check her web analytics for the night of and the two days after the Conan episode. As it turns out, traffic to their website, signups to their newsletters, and donations to their organization, all those measures had increased dramatically.

The crisis was actually a victory. That’s the value of measurement in a crisis. ∞

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