As any seasoned communications professional will tell you, even the most uncontroversial, seemingly ‘safe’ company can suddenly be plunged into a PR crisis overnight. You can go from struggling to get your company’s brand mentioned in the newspapers to fighting to keep it out of them within hours.

No entity is immune to a crisis so it is important to be prepared, whatever the size of your business or organisation. Below are five key tips to follow to help you keep your head above water.

1. Identify a crisis team in advance

When bad news breaks it spreads fast so it is important to make sure everyone in the organisation knows who can speak to media and who can’t. You will need a clear chain of command so people know who to direct media enquiries to and what the approval process is for any statements. Remember to keep it simple – if too many people are involved it will get out of control. Best to have a core team of senior people who can make decisions fast so you can respond to enquiries quickly. Ensure staff and stakeholders know to resist engaging or commenting on social media. All enquiries must be passed up to the core crisis team for them to deal with.

2. Take time to get your facts straight

It may seem obvious but make sure you’re fully abreast of the situation before you comment. The phones may be ringing off the hook but don’t be tempted to talk to media until you’re confident you have your strategy for resolving the situation in place. Take the time you need to get to the bottom of the problem, assess the damage and come up with a sensible solution, before you buckle to the pressure of all the media and stakeholders wanting answers.

3. Be as open and transparent as you can

Trying to cover up any fault on your side is a very bad idea. You will only get found out further down the line. Be honest, admit fault if there is fault to admit and spell out clear steps on how you plan to put things right. Use your company assets like your blog and social media channels to get your statement out quickly. Not only can you control the message this way, it also brings the additional advantage of being able to point media directly to your blog to save the team from repeating the same statement again and again.

4. Reassure and offer a solution

Remember to think about the people affected by the crisis first. Put yourselves in the shoes of your customers or those compromised by the news and reassure them that you have the situation under control. Offer practical advice for those affected so they can mitigate damage as quickly as possible. You may be worried about your brand and bottom line – most people will just be concerned about how this affects them. The more you can allay fears and offer a solution the quicker the negative news cycle will die down.

5. Don’t forget staff and stakeholders

While your main focus will be on the media, remember to keep your employees and stakeholders informed of what’s going on too. Not only will they be naturally very interested in how things are unfolding, they may well be concerned for the future of their jobs and investments too. Bear in mind that anything you say internally may leak externally so you may want to be circumspect about how much detail you reveal while you’re in the eye of the storm.

Crisis situations are stressful, and in today’s hyper-connected world, they move quickly. The key is making sure everyone knows who to turn to when they happen, and be as straightforward and practical as possible.

Written by: Cordy Griffiths (www.virgin.com)