Nobody likes a crisis, but when one happens, it’s important to know how to manage the situation to keep the public on your side and protect your brand.

It’s easy to think that saying nothing is the best way forward. But that approach leaves a big information gap that will quickly get filled with the wrong information.

Take the Dreamworld incident last year.

When four people were killed on a ride at Dreamworld in October 2016, they infamously took the advice of their lawyers to say as little as possible. So in the first 24 hours, they did one brief press conference and put one post on their website. But this approach left too many gaps for the audience and the media. Reporters need to fill their bulletins, so they said:

  • “It’s being reported that Dream World wasn’t keeping up with its theme park servicing schedules.”
  • “It’s being reported that the Thunder River Rapids Ride has had problems for some time.”
  • “It’s being reported that other rides at the theme park have the potential of malfunctioning.”

None of these statements were true, of course. But because Dreamworld chose to say nothing, rumours and gossip overpowered the facts. Once that happens, you have lost control of the crisis and your brand may suffer irreparable damage.

Managing a crisis is about being proactive with your communication. Part of doing this well means that the organisation experiencing the crisis should ideally be the one to break the story.

Who broke the Maria Sharapova drug use story? She did.

Who broke the Red Cross Blood Bank story after the largest data breach in Australian history? They did.

Even if you’re not the first to break the story, it pays to get some kind of information out as quickly as possible.

When Southwest Airlines Flight 345 crash landed at LaGuardia Airport on 22 July 2013, injuring nine people, do you know how long did it took the airline to tweet about it? 20 minutes.

Providing information and being transparent shows accountability and the public sees you as an organisation with nothing to hide. They trust that you want the best outcome for everyone, including the victims, and they’ll continue looking to your organisation for updates and more information. In fact, when you provide regular updates to the public in the first 72 hours of a crisis, the public sees you as an organisation doing a good job in a tough situation.

You take control of the crisis, not the other way around.

Maybe you’ll never have to deal with a crisis, but if you do, here are the three top tips to remember:

  1. Your primary focus must be on the victims, their family, and their friends.

The biggest impact of the crisis is on the people involved, so expressing and projecting empathy is key.

Here are some examples for tweets, Facebook posts, web, and press release copy:

  • “We’re providing counselling to the victims, their family and friends.”
  • “We’re seeking to get in touch with the victims’ family and friends.”
  • “We are shattered for the victims, their family and friends.”
  • “We have set up a hotline for victims, their family and friends.”
  • “Our main priority in this very difficult time is the victims, their family and friends.”

This is the time to be emotionally connected to your audience. Your statements need to be real and promoted across all of your communications. Because your focus is on the victims of the crisis, you need to let them know if there is any new information before you release it publicly.

  1. Never deal with a crisis alone.

It’s rare a crisis is solely contained to your organisation, so work with your key partners. Depending on the crisis, this could be Victoria Police, Ambulance Victoria, Australian Federal Police, Country Fire Authority and so on. Make sure you let the public know that you are working with them.

Example tweets, Facebook posts, web and press release copy:

  •  “We are working very closely with Victoria Police and Ambulance Victoria to ensure the area is secured and safe.”
  • “We are working very closely with Victoria Police and Ambulance Victoria to find out what went wrong and ensure this never happens again.”
  • “We are working very closely with Victoria Police and Ambulance Victoria to support the victims, their family, and friends.”
  1. Be proactive with providing information.

If there’s one thread throughout this post, it’s to be proactive. Break the story first. Send out updates regularly. Create a hashtag so your audience can easily find this information. Be the trusted voice in the crisis and show the public that you are doing everything you can while hiding nothing.

Going through a crisis is never easy, but if you have a good crisis communications plan in place, it can help you come out the other end with your reputation intact.


How have you managed the PR around a crisis?

Tell us below in the comments section.

Want to get your staff crisis-ready?

We provide crisis media training led by experienced journalist Tony Nicholls, who has covered international stories and worked for many of Australia’s major news networks. Find out more about the types of media training we offer here.

Tony Nicholls

Tony Nicholls

Founder and Director of Good Talent Media

Tony Nicholls is an accomplished journalist who has held roles for more than ten years with the ABC, SBS and Network Ten, covering thousands of news stories across Victoria, Australia and in the international media.


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