Crisis Management: The P.R. Pro’s Seat at the CEO’s Table

P.R. pro's are welcome in a Crisis. Image: Ambro /

When I worked in marketing for a large law firm I remember my husband’s response to all of the lawyer jokes and kidding. “Just try going into court without one.” The same could be said for a C.E.O. turned loose in a crisis storm without a good Public Relations consultant to provide guidance. Major crises are in the news daily. Behind those giant companies and institutions are the P.R. firms consulting with them.

Crisis communications is a specific niche within the public relations field. Ideally every company should have a crisis communications plan in place prior to the crisis occurring (it’s not just a matter of if one will occur, it is when!)  I remember routinely rehearsing crises at one large defense company where I was employed as a communications specialist. Look at most of our schools today. Drilling and preparedness is routine for these students.

A good P.R. pro will weigh the pro’s and con’s of given media strategies and help to formulate an overall communications plan to deal with a crisis. This year I was called in to handle a client crisis involving a potential hostile takeover attempt. On very short notice I was working with the board chair, the chief executive, the general counsel and the media! A good P.R. Pro knows how to handle the top business executives and how to speak their language. I read with interest Stacy Blackman’s article in U.S. News and World Report, “Why B-Schools need to teach P.R.”  While the language of business is key, it’s the well strategized and crafted communications message that forms the bridge from business to the receiver. It’s ultimately this ability to speak “bilingually” when needed that gives a P.R. pro a seat at the corporate table. In my client’s case the self-described “white knight” was turned away thanks to a sound communications strategy that took into account the client’s business and communications needs. It would behoove M.B.A.’s to learn public relations in school as eventually most CEO’s will end up working with a Public Relations professional. Does your company have a crisis communications plan for 2012? These days social media must be an integral part of any plan. Here are some excellent resources to get you thinking.


  • Linda Pucci says:

    Great food for thought, Mary Ellen! I suspect most small companies haven’t thought about the need for “crisis management through PR” BEFORE a crisis happens. Thanks for the resources about this topic. As I read your blog I realized that I’m at the level of preparedness in this area similar to sitting under my school desk to hide from the atomic bomb. Preparation is key, but effective preparation is much better!

  • Sue Painter says:

    This is excellent advice. No matter how small the business, once you get visibility and traction you will be creating a chain of PR that can help you or hurt you. Thanks for the resources!

  • Jeff Brunson says:

    I love Linda’s comment that “… but effective preparation is much better!” Thanks for the great material and the challenge to our thought; and preparation.

  • Wonderful advice, Mary Ellen. It’s always better to be prepared for
    a crises than panicking in the “heat of the moment.” Thank you for the resources.

  • Bill Painter says:

    I too worked for a large government contractor andn they had staff to help them handle the “uh ohs” that came up. the most important part is to face it up front and not hope it will go away.

  • Mary Ellen – I used to work for a PR firm who did a lot of crisis communication and while I was in the design/creative end, I witnessed the same thing … most businesses waited to secure help and reach out until it was almost too late and the damage had been done … then it became about brand protection and brand recovery. Their most successful clients had a a team and strategy in place ready to go if the need arose – and they themselves were trained.

    • maryellen says:

      I agree with you Jennifer that a well thought out plan saves a lot of headaches! It’s amazing but when the large company (where we’d rehearsed) really did have a crisis we simply went by the playbook!

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