It happened, that crisis you never thought you needed to prepare for, so you didn’t. Big or small, it’s critical that you jump into action when a crisis occurs so you can recover fast. A crisis can be something as seemingly small as a negative or unprofessional social media comment that an executive makes, or as major as a food poisoning outbreak at your restaurant, a shooting at your property, a natural disaster, or something even worse. Even some of the largest and most reputable companies such as United Airlines, Fox News, Pepsi, Adidas, Chipotle and more have experienced brand crisis situations, reminding us that no brand is immune and everyone needs crisis management tools.

What’s important is how you react, how you respond and how you get the world to move on as quickly as possible. Mitigating the damage to your brand is key. Here are a few reminders to keep in mind and keep you sane through the toughest crisis:

Melissa DiGianfilippo is the co-owner and president of public relations at Serendipit Consulting.

Take a deep breath

The worst possible thing you can do is respond in the heat of a moment. You’ve seen the mistakes a hundred times and the last thing you want to do is make things worse by jumping in and saying the absolute wrong thing. Take a minute, an hour or whatever it is you need to step back, consult your team and make sure you are 100% sure of how you want to respond before you do. Acting fast is important, but acting with intention is even more important.


Consult your crisis plan

Dig up your crisis management plan….if you have one, that is. Even if you didn’t plan for this specific incident, you should have a guideline for what to do first. Who is on your crisis response team? What is your media policy? Having these things prepared prior to any crisis can help you keep your calm and take control fast.

Get a grip on social media

Social media is the first place that things can and will spiral out of control. After you have handled any approved initial responses to your key publics and the media, set up tools to monitor the conversation on social media and in the media. Most importantly, immediately turn off any pre-planned social media content. You do not need some generic, sales-y post going out in the middle of crisis unless you want to be at the center of an even bigger social media firestorm. Additionally, it’s not necessary to respond to every single comment, however, it may be necessary to share a blanket statement with updates as appropriate.

Tell the truth and be authentic

When things go wrong, the worse thing you can do is be dishonest to your stakeholders. As hard as it may be, the truth is the only way to go. Attempting to cover up what really happened will only make things worse. You can be short and sweet, but admitting fault, taking responsibility and being authentic will make the storm pass faster and it will make your loyal customers and fans trust you again. Even if you aren’t at fault, be real in your response and show that you care.

What’s your plan to fix it?

After you’ve told the truth, you need to tell your stakeholders how you plan to resolve the situation. If it is something you could have prevented, how are you going to make sure it doesn’t happen again? If it’s something that was out of your control, what can you do to make sure you are even more prepared for something similiar in case it ever happens again? Keeping your audience up to date with your plan as you work to resolve it or work to plan better for the future will make them feel included and naturally, they will want to help and support.

Slowly rebuild

Once you are out of the thick of things, it’s time to rebuild and work on telling a positive story. Work with your team on a solid PR and social media strategy that can position your brand in a positive light. Whether it’s through a series of profile stories, expert source articles, contributed content, a contest, video series or all of the above – now is the time to invest in some positive buzz around your brand to push the negative stuff down. This will help remind your stakeholders of all the reasons they liked you and trusted you in the first place.

No company is immune to crisis, and enduring a crisis can be detrimental to not only your immediate bottom line but also to your long-term reputation if it is not handled properly. Create a crisis plan now, revisit it regularly and make sure your team feels prepared; it will make all the difference when something goes wrong.

Melissa DiGianfilippo is the co-owner and president of public relations at Serendipit Consulting, where she leads the firm’s clients’ public relations and communications efforts including traditional media relations, crisis communications, internal communications, community outreach and more.