Crisis communications – the golden rules

I once lost a weekend – a full weekend – to bird flu, the H5N1 variety. I wasn’t suffering directly, but as the on-duty press officer for Tesco, nevertheless it took its toll.

When a crisis or major issue strikes your organisation, your reputation and, in some instances, your very existence, is on the line. So, you need to be prepared in order to best manage in what will be some of the most challenging days in the business’s history.

Representing the largest supermarket chain in the UK at the time, the bird flu supply chain issues were inevitably going to mean front page and headline news. And ultimately I owe my performance to solid preparation, which promoted a confidence to work effectively under pressure.

There is no substitute to experience, but the following golden rules are well worth noting.

The Team

The team that are to be involved should be briefed on who comprises the core team, and how to contact key personnel in the eventuality of a crisis. Complicated cascade systems are a no-no – it needs to be simple and realistic.

Roles and responsibilities

Make a list of what each member needs to do and what tasks they are assigned when a crisis breaks. These roles should include internal communications; media relations; social media; media monitoring and legal.


Think through in advance what the key messages need to be. Don’t worry about the corporate jargon, think about what you need to get across in a short and pressurised time frame.

Draft statements

Prepare a series of positioning statements from which you can build on at the time. We call this ‘scenario planning’ in the trade. Include background information too. This is the time that press and other key stakeholders will be interested to know how long you have been established and how many people you employ.


Good PR officers can think quickly as well as act quickly. You need to be able to run at the pace of the story, so select your team and prepare accordingly.


A trained media spokesperson is a wise investment. Our types are trained to manage and react in crisis scenarios – and crucially to take control. Control will allow you to protect your organisation.


Crisis communication training is compulsory in any decent PR agency. At Tesco I spent a day in a ‘nuclear bunker’ reacting to ‘media calls’ as appropriate. That experience was marginally worse than that I’ve highlighted above – but it served its purpose.

Caroline is the Managing Director at MK PR, and specialises in corporate and consumer public relation strategy planning. For further information please contact her on 0114 275 6784.