The Dreaded Crisis

By: McKenzie Edgar



You know that one person you follow on social media and ask yourself why do I follow them? And then you have an “oh yeah” moment because their account is a train wreck and you can’t seem to look away. I know that sounds harsh but there is something about witnessing something disastrous that you can’t help but cringe and keep watching.


Crisis management is one of my favorite topics that we cover in public relations. We have all heard about a lot of crises that have happened to companies. There have been some pretty cringe-worthy ones that make you say “thank goodness I was not involved in that.” But really, how does one keep their cool when you are getting a call from a reporter at 6 am asking about a shocking situation you haven’t even heard of yet?


What is a PR crisis?

There are various ways to define a PR crisis. One definition is “an event that if allowed to escalate can disrupt an organization’s normal operations, jeopardize its reputation, and damage its bottom line” (Guth and Marsh, 2003).  Every company should have a crisis plan which includes one for the short term and one for the long term. One should always anticipate the worst because sometimes certain crises you never see coming until it is too late.

Social media: fueling the fire

In Kelli Matthews’ lecture (Wednesday, February 8, 2017) we learned to think of social media as fueling the fire (aka the crisis). She said that social media is like the wind, fuel, and direction of your crisis. All of these can add to the intensity of the crisis. With almost everyone having a smartphone in their hands at any given moment, it is easy to see how a crisis can spread. Numerous videos have gone almost instantly viral on social media increasing the impact of the crisis.



There is not necessarily a key way to handle every single crisis. In previous public relations courses, I learned about the ‘no comment’ approach. This one is not recommended because it implies guilt.   Other approaches that are to avoid when handling a crisis is denying or accusing (placing the blame elsewhere).  These approaches tend to make people angry. Dean Mundy, a UO professor, once said that falling on the sword is the best approach to take. Angry crowds want you to apologize, own up to it, and fix it. Be transparent. Timing is everything when it comes to a crisis. Turning your back on a small flame will only let it erupt into a forest fire.


Top 10 things to listen for:

To stay on top of a possible future crisis, Kelli Matthews taught us to listen for: the complaint, the compliment, the thread, the competitor, the crowd, the influencer, the crisis, the ROI, the audit and the point of need. It is important for us as PR professionals to be on top of the conversations involving our companies because that helps us anticipate possible crises scenarios. An example of a good crisis management approach is Tylenol. On the other hand, an example of not so good crisis management is the BP oil crisis along with the CEO famously saying “I’d like my life back.” It is better to be as prepared as possible.


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This Article Has 5 Comments
  1. Bailey Rogers says:

    Hi McKenzie!

    I really love this blog post! I get really frustrated a lot of the time with people who think PR is just meant to cover up people’s mistakes, when in reality there is a much bigger picture. I do think it is important to acknowledge all the steps that go into deciding what the next step should be in a crisis. I had Dean for J350 and he definitely stressed the importance of falling on the sword and being transparent. That idea fully supports the pillars that PR are built on, trust and having a good relationship with you company’s public.

    Bailey Rogers

  2. Jennifer Kinsman says:

    Great blog post, McKenzie!
    The part of this blog post that stood out to me was dealing with a crisis head on. I think that there are multiple occasions when companies have dealt with a crisis in a way that hindered the company more in the long run. With social media at our fingertips, it is easy for ANYONE to fuel the fire of a crisis. Especially in the state of our current society, everyone wants their voice to be heard. I think that it is important for companies to stay transparent with the audience because trust is very important. I also agree with you that the BP oil spill response is a perfect example of what NOT to do when dealing with a crisis.
    -Jenny Kinsman

  3. Erika Goto says:

    I definitely think crisis communications is one of my favorite areas of public relations as well. There is something about having to be quick on your feet and juggling situations that is exciting. I agree in that being transparent is one of the key factors in tackling a crisis. Once you lose trust and credibility, it is hard to get that back. During times of crisis, I think companies have to be smart in picking what conversations to be a part of and who they choose to be their spokesperson.

  4. Mahina Husain says:

    Great blog post! The 10 things to listen for are definitely going to be written down in my brain. It is so important for companies to prepare for every scenario because who really knows what is going to happen. I agree that PR isn’t about the cover up rather the preparation and execution of good crisis management. Personally, I respect a company 100000000x more when they admit to something and apologize, sincerely, rather than blame everyone around them. Moral of the story: don’t look to BP oil for crisis management help.

  5. Cydney Chelberg says:


    I love that you wrote about this topic and that your brought in a lot of good examples from organizations and your classes!

    I personally find crisis communication an area of public relations that is stressful and so I tend to shy away from the topic, but I am glad that you wrote this post and helped me gain a little bit more insight. Your perspective makes me feel a little better about the future possibility of handling an organization’s crisis communication. Thank you!

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