PR Crisis Management - A Manual to Prevent & Survive a Nightmare

PR Crisis Management: A Manual to Prevent & Survive a Nightmare

The line between minor reputation issues and a full-blown PR crisis can blur with alarming speed. A PR

The line between minor reputation issues and a full-blown PR crisis can blur with alarming speed.

A PR crisis often sprouts from a bouquet of smaller issues that, when left unsolved, grow into a much larger problem. Today, it’s much more likely for PR disasters to happen on communication channels beyond your control. For example, social media!

The thing is that your audience will recognize a looming crisis, way before your dedicated PR team catches wind of it. This is where PR crisis management comes to the rescue, to shield your brand reputation against potential threats and handle the situation when the PR nightmare unfolds.

In this article, we’ll explain everything you need to know about PR crisis management from tips to examples and specific steps to follow.

Ready, set, go!

What is PR Crisis Management?

PR crisis management is a set of strategic processes that a business has in place to handle threatening events that can damage its reputation.

Whether it’s a product failure, a social media backlash, or a scandal linked to your business or your brands, PR crisis management steps in to navigate the situation, minimize the damage, and ensure timely communication. That’s why it’s considered a critical organizational function, according to the Institute for PR.

Its ultimate objective is to damage control, demonstrate accountability, and ensure that your brand will emerge from the crisis with its reputation intact.

Why is Crisis Management in PR Important?

A public relations crisis can happen to any business at any time due to the nature of PR, demanding extroversion and exposing your brand to your audience’s opinion. In fact, it’s so common for PR campaign messaging to be negatively perceived.

Remember that Burger King’s 2021 International Women’s Day tweet saying: “Women belong in the kitchen” and the backlash that spread like wildfire? The original idea of this campaign was truly good — culinary scholarships for women to battle the gender gap in chefs. Nonetheless, tweeting this phrase without any context got people angry for good reason.

You can’t know for sure what will go wrong in digital PR. However, the way you handle such a crisis situation will determine how people judge you.

Here we’ve gathered the main reasons why PR crisis management is of the essence for your business.

1. Protects brand reputation and image

We all agree that brand reputation should be preserved by all means, because it’s hard to build and easy to destroy.

Public relations crisis management is the guardian angel of brand reputation as it addresses misinformation and negative publicity quickly to prevent prolonged damage to your brand image.

2. Maintains stakeholders’ trust and confidence

A PR disaster could translate into fewer customers, disappointed shareholders, and lost talent.

That’s why having a crisis management plan in place can maintain key stakeholders’ trust and good spirits and make them feel assured that your brand is going to overcome any potential threat and emerge unharmed.

3. Minimizes financial repercussions

The costs of a crisis can be unimaginable. Decreasing sales, legal fees, and drop in stock prices are just some of the consequences of a poorly handled situation. Not to mention, adding up the product recall costs and advertising expenses when dealing with it.

PR crisis management can help you mitigate the damage to your brand reputation, saving you money that you’ll have to spend to repair it in the future.

4. Ensures effective and timely communication

Crisis communications is your troops to battle misinformation and rumors about the incident that triggered the crisis.

Crisis management in public relations helps you establish the right narrative to eliminate gossip and inaccuracies. Digital media is running 24/7, so being able to respond on time gives you the competitive advantage to put the crisis fire out at its early stages.

5. Enables swift recovery and resilience post-crisis

Also in the aftermath, PR crisis management can help your brand reputation recover and your business bounce back.

We’re not going to lie, the post-crisis period isn’t easy for PR teams. However, your crisis planning should definitely include strategies for rebuilding brand image through better online reputation management, with lessons learned from the incident, and more effective preventative measures.

The bottom line is that PR crisis management can prove invaluable during turbulence both to your business’s external image and internal well-being.

But enough with theory. Let’s explain how you can manage a crisis effectively.

The Four Ps of PR Crisis Management

For starters, the four Ps of crisis management refer to Prevent, Plan, Practice, and Perform as an easy way to remember the basics of crisis management, which we analyze below.


There’s an ancient Greek quote that says: “Prevention is better than cure.”, which captures the whole point behind preventative measures as the first step of a crisis management plan.

We can — and we must — have at the top of our crisis planning all the measures that will help us detect a crisis at its early stages or even predict potential problematic situations resulting from our PR and marketing efforts.

Let’s elaborate on this for a moment. The first step to foreseeing an online brand reputation crisis is social listening.

Social media can become a court of justice, that’s why you have to be aware of all the social mentions of your brand to rest assured that you know everything that’s being said about your business in the digital sphere.

You can use online reputation management tools, like Mentionlytics, to keep track of your brands’ social media and web mentions to spot alarming issues.

For instance, you can identify negative posts and comments with sentiment analysis of your mentions and then you can respond promptly to resolve any issues. That’s a guaranteed way of preventing PR crises.

Mentions Sentiment Analysis Chart in Mentionlytics

Bonus: Learn How to Respond to Negative Reviews and Comments 

Another resourceful way to prevent potential crises is by using Mentionlytics’ advanced filters to categorize your mentions into issues that need immediate attention and others that can wait. That way you can focus your energy on truly pressing matters and not be consumed by less important tasks.

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What’s more, you can take advantage of Mentionlytics’ customizable real-time alerts to get notified about new brand mentions the moment they go live.

Plus, you can take it a bit further and tailor your alerts, so the platform will send you an email notification only for negative mentions or mentions from specific non-favorable media outlets, and more.


Now, in case you can’t stop the crisis from arriving at your doorstep, you should be well-prepared. We mean, having a documented, carefully-thought plan of action for what to do under such circumstances.

This is a crucial subject, so we provide a step-by-step guide on how to manage a crisis in the next section.


We all need practice to give our maximum performance when needed.

So, your crisis response team should rehearse your plan regularly to ensure they’re ready for when the crisis hits. That way, you can catch any mistakes early on and make sure you respond in the best way possible.


The time will come when you’ll be facing a PR nightmare. Then, you’re going to put the plan into practice. Make sure you follow it to the letter.

Pro Tip: SIA, Mentionlytics’ Social Intelligence Advisor, can help you perform your crisis management plan with grace. It gives you insights into what went well and what didn’t based on your social media performance and provides you with actionable advice to improve your online presence.

Now, let’s delve into the practical stuff, a.k.a specific steps for effective PR crisis management. Scroll down!

5 Steps for Effective PR Crisis Management

Step #1: Set Goals & Have a Crisis Management Plan

A precise and thorough crisis response plan is essential. But to create one you have to understand your business objectives clearly and recognize how potential crises might impact them.

Based on this, formulate the goals for your crisis management plan with strategies and tactics to minimize the damage and restore your brand reputation as soon as possible.

Step #2: Create a Dedicated Crisis Response Team

Many businesses mistakenly rally all staff during a crisis, risking further chaos.

However, effective crisis management requires a dedicated team. This team, ideally led by the CEO and advised by senior PR and legal executives, should predict, plan, and strategize crisis responses. And it should include heads of major departments and subject specialists.

Regular reviews of potential crises and solutions can test the readiness of this team.

Furthermore, if you lack in-house expertise, consider hiring specialized crisis management or legal firms.

Step #3: Ensure that Communication Flows

Open and efficient communication is of paramount importance to overcome a PR crisis.

Start by promptly notifying all stakeholders — employees, shareholders, the public, legal teams, and customers — of potential risks. Appoint a skilled, knowledgeable spokesperson prepared to handle media inquiries and address concerns from all audiences.

Honesty and transparency are key here. While a crisis can’t be reversed, being forthright can mitigate the fallout. Ensure the entire workforce is informed to maintain morale and prevent misinformation. Keep all stakeholders updated with your progress or setbacks.

Pro Tip: Leverage social media to maintain a positive, transparent image.

Step #4: Prevent the Crisis

As we said in the first step, you will have to predict what kind of crisis your company may face to put together a crisis management plan. Companies don’t usually consider preventing possible crises as part of crisis management, although it’s an essential step.

For that, it’s imperative to stay on top of all deadlines, finances, and legal matters. Often, tweaking existing methodologies can prevent predicted crises. Transparently communicate potential delays to stakeholders and address concerns before they escalate.

You know, many crises result from overlooking minor issues that compound over time. Efficient management and a proactive HR and PR team can mitigate these risks, ensuring any crisis is aptly handled.

Step #5: Always Expect a Crisis

True crisis anticipation means understanding that every action or oversight, from hiring choices to office disputes or even minor data errors, can lead to potential issues.

Consider the repercussions of each decision, recognizing that seemingly insignificant missteps can snowball into larger crises.

These are the fundamental steps to deal with PR crises and win the reputation battle.

In case you want a thorough analysis of the above steps, take a look at our dedicated article on the 5 crucial steps of crisis management.

Now, let’s continue with 5 tips to remember when managing a crisis.

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5 Tips for Better Crisis Management in Public Relations

A general tip before we start: Don’t panic. All PR pros have been in that position at least once in their career. Now, go on!

  1. No external communications until you double-check the facts

When a crisis occurs, rushing to respond without being sure what happened is the wrong move. You’ll end up unable to answer the audience’s questions, seem unprepared, and make matters worse.

You should put all external communications on hold for some time until you double-check all the facts and understand the situation along with how you should implement your crisis management plan.

A generic, pre-drafted press release won’t get you far. It’ll seriously damage your reliability and that’s no good for your brand since 53% of millennials want brands to be reliable.

However, it mustn’t take you long to respond, which brings us to the next tip.

  1. Act quickly and honestly

By acting quickly we’re NOT referring to knee-jerk reactions or rushed public statements. We talk about assessing the situation fast and following your plan without hesitation.

Choose the communication channel that best fits with what you want to say. Is it a longer statement explaining why the incident happened? Then, a blog post or a press release. Was the crisis triggered by a tweet? Then, you should tweet your apology there too, and be prepared for the dialogue.

Remember that honesty and transparency go a long way, no matter the medium. Don’t lie or try to cover up things. Admit your mistake and take full responsibility. Apologize and commit to fix it as soon as you can.

  1. Be empathetic and compassionate

You have to keep in mind that any crises that hit your business have a serious impact on people’s lives or the well-being of other businesses.

So, you must show compassion in every statement you craft. It’s no surprise that 68% of customers expect brands to be empathetic because people want to be treated as people.

That’s why you should definitely apologize for any harm caused and then take action to fix things.

If you don’t have all the answers people expect from you, then say exactly that. However, be as much prepared as possible. Don’t let anger take over. Stay to the facts and respect your audience and the opposing party.

  1. Take corrective action

Besides all apologies, if you aren’t taking any corrective measures your whole business attitude will be considered phony and deceptive.

For example, in the Johnson & Johnson 1982 Tylenol poisoning crisis — a classic PR crisis management success story we analyze in the next section — the company recalled all Tylenol products from the market as a corrective action.

Of course that was a million-dollar loss for J&J. Nonetheless, that way “the company emerged as another victim of the crime and one that put customer safety above profit”, according to the University of Oklahoma. This was exactly what saved J&J’s reputation.

So, do what’s necessary no matter the cost. Put people first and they will recognize it.

  1. Learn from the crisis

A crisis has a lot to teach you. Keep notes during the storm, assess what went right and what didn’t with your team, and evaluate how the plan helped.

Apply your lesson learned in the post-crisis management strategy of your brand reputation. Make sure you won’t fall into the same trap again.

Bonus: Learn 4 Online Reputation Strategies for Healthy Brands

Examples of PR Crisis Management

Storytime! Below we analyze two reputation crises with different outcomes to learn from.

J&J Tylenol Poisoning Crisis

The 1982 J&J Tylenol poisoning crisis is considered one of the most significant PR crisis management examples as the company managed to strengthen its reputation, although faced with fatal consequences. It’s also one of the biggest American unsolved murder mysteries!

PR Crisis Example - Johnson and Johnson Tylenol Poisoning


The Story

In the fall of 1982, seven people in the Chicago area died after ingesting cyanide-laced Tylenol capsules. The poisonings were random, with no clear motive or target. The deaths triggered widespread fear, as Tylenol, produced by Johnson & Johnson, was a popular over-the-counter pain reliever.

As you can imagine, this crisis could have destroyed the Tylenol brand and severely damaged the reputation of J&J.

PR Crisis Management in Action

Johnson & Johnson’s response is widely praised for its swiftness, transparency, and prioritization of consumer safety over profit.

Immediately, J&J recalled Tylenol capsules from store shelves, a move that cost the company millions of dollars. However, this decisive action conveyed that consumer safety was the company’s utmost priority.

Furthermore, the company kept an open line of communication with the public, regularly updating them on the actions they were taking and advising consumers to avoid Tylenol products until the extent of the tampering was known. Also, Johnson & Johnson communicated their new triple safety seal packaging with a press conference to restore the product’s reliability.

After addressing the immediate crisis, Johnson & Johnson launched a campaign to rebuild trust with consumers. Tylenol managed to reestablish its brand, regaining all the market share it had lost during the crisis.

Balenciaga 2022 Christmas Campaign Crisis

Last year’s Christmas campaign of the heute-couture brand, Balenciaga, was one of the recent PR crisis examples that caused a huge backlash to social media and the Press.

The Story

Balenciaga launched an ad campaign in November 2022 featuring children holding teddy bears in BDSM gear. The association between this campaign and child pornography was made immediately by the public, causing a wave of negative publicity for Balenciaga.

The hashtag #cancelBalenciaga was trending on Twitter and TikTok with people accusing Balenciaga and its creative director of supporting child exploitation and pedophilia. Also, brand ambassadors, like Kim Kardashian and Bella Hadid, distanced themselves from the brand.

PR Crisis Management in Action

Almost a week after the ad campaign had gone live and the backlash still going strong, Balenciaga apologized with a story on its official Instagram account, saying that they took the matter seriously and would go down the legal road, closing with “We strongly condemn abuse of children in any form. We stand for children’s safety and well-being”, according to The New York Post.

Balenciaga removed all the ads from the Internet and in late November ‘22 the teddy bears were no longer available for sale on the brand’s website. Later, Balenciaga filed a million-dollar lawsuit against the ad producers.

Although the fashion brand tried hard to manage this PR crisis, it didn’t manage to avoid damage to its reputation. In fact, Balenciaga is considered one of the poorest reputation companies in the US for 2023.

Prevent PR Crisis Now

Don’t you want to turn your PR nightmare into a glorious fairytale, where you saved the day — and the reputation and budget — of your business? Then, all you have to do is invest more in preventing a PR crisis before it hits.

You can’t know what the future holds. Start using Mentionlytics to detect potential threats for your brands today. Try it for free now!


How should a company communicate with the media and the public during a crisis?

During a PR crisis, a company should communicate with the media and public transparently, promptly, and consistently. They should designate a skilled spokesperson to relay accurate information, demonstrate empathy, take responsibility when necessary, and outline corrective actions.

How does social media play a role in PR crisis management?

Social media amplifies the speed and reach of information. In PR crisis management, it’s a pivotal tool for real-time communication, public sentiment monitoring, and direct engagement with audiences.

How can a company rebuild its image and regain trust post-crisis?

Post-crisis, a company can rebuild its image by taking responsibility, demonstrating transparency, and enacting corrective measures. Continuous communication, listening to stakeholders, and making genuine efforts towards positive change are essential. Over time, consistent actions that reflect the commitment to improvement help regain trust and rebuild reputation.

Are there specific tools or technologies that can assist in PR crisis management?

There are various PR tools for effective crisis management. These include social media monitoring platforms, real-time alert systems, and communication management software. Together, they facilitate the swift identification of issues, gauge public sentiment, and enable timely responses.

Maira Volitaki

About Maira Volitaki

Just a content manager here who loves researching and writing about all things marketing. But when off-duty, you’ll find me lost in a mystery book or binge-watching TV shows... or petting the nearest dog! 🐶 Feel free to drop me a line on LinkedIn.