Crisis communications in-depth: The four R’s

February 4, 2011


Image from wikimedia commons.

The first post of this series covered making limeade out of a crisis situation. As I stated in that post, I attribute that concept to Betsey, our #FHKC GM. But the limeade idea focused solely on how to wrap up a crisis situation and put a positive spin on it.

So what happens in the heat of the battle? Well, Betsey had an answer for that too. Hopefully your company has a set crisis plan, has integrated social media into it, has a response protocol and playbook and has been building up goodwill. If I was writing another post in this in-depth series, it would probably cover the importance of who makes up your crisis team and actually drilling potential scenarios.

But no matter how much you have practiced, when a serious issue strikes, it’s easy to forget what you’ve learned and even panic just a little. That’s why I wanted to share with you the four R’s – the other part of Betsey’s limeade equation that walks you through what you actually need to do strategically and tactically in a crisis situation.


This one sounds simple, but when a significant issue arises, remember you have a plan and put it in motion. Gather your crisis team members and brief them on the situation. Assign tasks and touchpoints. You can’t control the situation, especially in a social media world, but you can manage and influence it. Reacting is the first step toward making that happen.


One of the assignments you should be making when you react is to further research the situation. Work to understand all aspects, all angles and the severity the crisis with which you are dealing. Another part of research is to do your homework internally and find the truth. Then do the self test with your crisis team and discuss how your influencers and customers will react to your company POV. Ask your community managers and owners of key online/offline touchpoints (e.g. Twitter, shareholders) how their specific communities might react. If you have time, take a look at how other companies have handled similar situations. What worked and what didn’t? Learn from their mistakes.


This is an area where a lot of brands screw up. They wait too long or they don’t think about how their response will be received by their key stakeholders – cue BP CEO saying he’d like his life back. Assuming you have reviewed your response protocol and the issue warrants a response, time is of the essence. That said, people are more realistic than we give them credit for. Try to work within a 15-minute acknowledgement, hour first-response model. And it’s ok to say “We’re listening, we’re looking into the situation, we don’t have an answer yet.” That’s much better than no response. The other key point here happens before you ever need to respond. Identify your influencers and have that list handy. Once you come up with a company position or message, know to whom that message needs to go. Media, bloggers, influencers, community members, customers – know who you want to talk to, and via what channel you want to reach them, when you have something to say.


We’re taught at a very young age to “just say sorry.” Why? Because it’s disarming, it helps us get past issues and frankly, it’s usually the right thing to do. An apology can go a long way in a crisis situation. And so can just showing remorse if it’s a situation beyond your control that impacted your employees, customers, etc. Plus, you can always apologize without admitting fault, if that’s one of the issues that causes your Legal team to hesitate. To be safe, phrase your remorse in the following way – “I’m sorry for the families affected by this tragedy.” – or in a similar fashion. The only time you don’t want to show remorse is if you are falsely accused and your company decides to fight it, a la what Taco Bell is doing with the what-percent-of-our-beef-is-really-beef situation.

This is just a high flyover and every crisis is going to have case-specific pieces that arise and need to be handled. But the four Rs can keep you on track and put you in position to maintain the best relationship possible with your influencers and customers so you hopefully have a chance to make limeade when it’s all said and done.

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  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jeff Domansky, Camelia Enachioiu, Dawn, Adrian Seeley, Jeff Domansky and others. Jeff Domansky said: #CrisisPR basics: #CrisisCommunications in-depth: The Four R’s #crisismanagement #PR [...]

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