Everyone has experienced the sensation of watching a disaster unfurl slowly in front of them; a waiter dropping a plate of food on a customer, or the door shutting while you’re fetching the newspaper in your pyjamas. It may be a source of amusement to onlookers, but if you’re at the centre of it, not so much.

But the worst type of disasters are the ones that you’re in control of, or could have been had you been better prepared.

They are true disasters because we know that a shedful of blame is headed our way, possibly due to a lack of due diligence. A stressed out CEO will be putting feet to the fire and wanting to understand what happened, how, and when it’s going to be cleaned up. And of course why no-one saw this (now) obvious disaster coming?

In the world of PR, disasters soon become the property of crisis media teams who help organisations clarify their strategy, messaging, to clean up any potential bad press, reputational damage, and prevent any further communications faux-pas while the traditional and social media heat is on.

Some people may think that this is what PR consultants live for, but for organisations, so too for PR agency, it’s much better to have a media plan in place prior to a catastrophe unfolding in real time.

The case for a prepared media crisis plan

A disaster has its own laws and contingencies, none of which are kind to you. There will be an avalanche of internal and external requests and imposts on your time – many of which will be pressing and which will create stress. Stress has a way of muddling clear thinking and creating unhelpful organisational friction.

And when journalists start hitting the phones, camping outside your HQ in a van with a satellite dish, or knocking on your door with a cameraman in tow, organisational stress and the potential for compounding errors can go through the roof.

That is why, in fact, PR agencies prefer to do crisis media planning before a disaster strikes. While exact circumstances can’t be predicted, category problems, themes, processes, media strategies, and a chain of command can be worked out beforehand and responses formulated in the cold light of day, and refined upon further discussion and reflection.

A crisis media plan: plain and simple

Think about an airline. You can bet that most airlines have a media crisis plan. They might not know the exact circumstances and details of the next airline mishap, but they will have some pretty good ideas and a media plan to put into action should anything occur.

Similarly, a sporting organisation like the AFL might not know exactly what shape its next PR disaster may take but they’d have a good idea of categories and their response to them: crowd behaviour, player behaviour, drugs (sports enhancing and illicit), serious injury, racism, and so on.

It’s important to respond to PR brushfires before they become raging bushfires and that means prompt, clear and well-packaged responses that don’t open up other problematic vistas if someone starts freestyling on a theme to a journalist – or worse, two or more organisational leaders delivering their own, sometimes contradictory, messages.

Any organisation can anticipate the likely disasters they may confront as an entity or industry. Working out those messages in advance and how best to respond to a crisis in the cold light of day is the optimal way to go.

On-call media

Some PR agencies, including Good Talent Media, offer on-call crisis media for organisations who register for their services. When you look for an agency to help you in a media crisis, it’s important to use an agency that understands the news cycle, how to protect your brand, and how to manage the social and digital side of a crisis.

An on-call media crisis service is one in which a client pays a small premium for coverage. It might apply to those who haven’t done any prior crisis media training, or those that have. Obviously those that have done a stocktake of their business and sector ahead of a crisis will be in a better position to respond when and if a crisis erupts, as will be the PR agency they employ to help them.

What registering for such a service does is buy you some crisis-media insurance, should you require it. Organisations can certainly call on spec if a crisis blows up unexpectedly, but without having registered there’s no guarantee that a PR agency will have the capacity to accommodate you at the time you call.

Registering for on-call crisis media for a small retainer provides piece of mind and pushes you to the front of the queue should you ever need to use the services of a crisis media team.

Good Talent Media is an agile, boutique PR agency that employs former and current journalists, and social media and digital media specialists for all your media and brand reputation needs.

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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