How to keep control in a crisis

In the first of a new series of PRWeek videos, comms experts from the BBC, Everything Everywhere and Electric Airwaves take a practical and in-depth look at crisis comms.

Panellists for
Panellists for

From BP to News International, the crisis comms challenge has become tougher for PR professionals to overcome - particularly as digital channels and social media add complexity and give millions of people a new set of comms tools.

So, crisis communications is the perfect topic to kick-start PR Vision - a new series of PRWeek 20-minute videos. The first video shows how to implement an effective and realistic crisis plan that covers everyday issues management and the evolving media challenge.

All three comms experts in the video - Everything Everywhere director of corporate comms Robin O'Kelly, BBC head of digital comms Paul Almond and Electric Airwaves crisis management director Jonathan Hemus - agree crisis comms has become more difficult, but they believe preparation is key for equipping your business to respond in this digital world.

'I do think there is an awful lot for you to lose if you get crisis comms wrong but the real trick is to get it right beforehand. Preparation for me is everything,' says O'Kelly.

Hemus agrees. Crisis management is not about waiting until 'the minute that the crisis breaks', according to him, but learning from the experiences of others and having plans and processes in place beforehand.

BP, for instance, when it found itself at the centre of the Gulf Coast oil spill disaster last year, did end up with an excellent online media hub, according to Hemus, but it was too late.

'Speed is everything,' agrees O'Kelly. 'Particularly in the modern world of media.'

To help you prepare, you can learn from mistakes. 'At the BBC, towards the end of March, we had a situation where the BBC's web site ( crashed in its entirety. Believe it or not, that was a situation for which we had not prepared,' recalls Almond. 'It happened late at night and we were all taken unawares. It was down for one hour. There was an acknowledgement quickly from the editor of the site but we were criticised for the slowness of the response.'

As a result, the BBC has established a protocol for such events - although Almond claims they are unlikely to recur - and the organisation strives to stay engaged with its audience, to keep comms channels open.

Hemus concludes: 'It is no surprise that organisations that have been in a firestorm are the organisations that subsequently have the very best preparation, the very best plans of all. The organisations that tend to respond quickly and use social media effectively in a crisis use it regularly.'

Insights and information such as this fuel the PR Vision debate in this show. To find out more, including how Everything Everywhere dealt with its merger and recent restructuring, how the BBC responded to the leaking of new product news and more, visit


- Jonathan Hemus Crisis and issues management director, Electric
- Robin O'Kelly Corporate comms director, Everything Everywhere
- Paul Almond Head of digital comms, BBC
- Host Philip Smith, head of content solutions, PRWeek

Top Crisis Communication Tips
1. Keep your crisis plan up to date
2. Resource your online crisis comms capability
3. Ensure you have an effective media spokesperson
4. Preparation is everything
5. Be quick to respond to the crisis
6. Engage with consumers, internal staff and stakeholders
7. See the opportunity and seize it

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