Proactive vs. Reactive Crisis Communication Plans

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Bad things happen. Let’s begin by agreeing that no organization, regardless of size or the nature of their work, can avoid every potential crisis. That remains entirely out of our control. What we can control, however, is the manner in which we respond as part of crisis management. We as public relations professionals can choose to take a proactive crisis communication stance where we essentially get in front of the issue and become the first to shape the narrative. Alternatively, we can take a reactive crisis communications stance where we address the issue quietly and prepare in case someone asks the question. 

Both proactive and reactive crisis communication approaches have their place just like both of them involve significant planning. The one thing no organization should do is wait until a crisis gets completely out of control before making their game plan. That is where organizations fail, leaders lose their jobs and companies collapse. With that in mind, we’ll explore the nature of crisis communication, the differences between proactive and reactive crisis communication plans and their role in reputation management.

What is Crisis Communications?

Crises vary in nature and scale, but can still pose risks to your organization regardless of size. Maybe an employee made a… let’s say “less than wise” choice on social media or a CEO suddenly passed away. Perhaps a vital warehouse just burned down or your CIO just dropped the bomb that you’ve been hacked. Regardless of the crisis, this is the point where public relations and the leadership team come together to form a crisis communications plan that clearly outlines:

  • The nature of the crisis.
  • The level of risk or exposure
  • Primary audiences for communication (which may not always be the media).
  • Who the decision makers will be (rarely should everyone be in the room).
  • The communications strategy going forward.
  • Who the spokesperson will be.

While only one small part of corporate crisis management, crisis communication is fundamental to any successful response. And to be fair, I have often been in that room where everyone was scared that a crisis would ravage an organization and I had to be the person to politely inform them that no one outside of that room would care. Crisis communications isn’t simply a plan for media statements and press conferences. It is a process and regardless of the process, each crisis, no matter how small, requires an appropriate level of planning and response.

The Proactive Crisis Communications Plan

In some cases, a crisis is simply too big to avoid and requires a head on approach. This is the proactive crisis communications plan. For example, in my past life as a reporter I attended a local police press conference with an unknown topic. The police chief walked out and gave a detailed account of inappropriate officer conduct within the department, outlined their steps to address it and took questions. No reporter in the room had a clue that was coming, but by taking a proactive approach, the police chief shaped the narrative from the beginning. The last thing they wanted was someone finding out on their own and suggesting the department tried to cover it up. They chose transparency and forthrightness.

While a proactive crisis communication plan sometimes runs the risk of making mountains out of mole hills, it can also preserve an organization’s integrity while diffusing any ticking timebombs of a story later down the road. Remember that proactive crisis communications may not even involve contacting the media. Maybe you discovered inappropriate conduct within the office and instead of letting the rumor mill get out of control, you choose to send an office wide notification or hold a meeting to discuss the issue openly and re-enforce rules or expectations of office behavior. Your plan should still involve contingencies, though. For example, any company-wide email should be written with the expectation that someone outside the company will see it. That needs to be part of the crisis communications planning process.

The Reactive Crisis Communications Plan

You would think that a reactive crisis communications plan would be the opposite of a proactive plan, but not so much. While an organization may on some level hope that no one ever asks the question that calls upon them to react and discuss an issue, in reality the planning process requires that they prepare for every contingency just like they would for a proactive plan. That means ensuring that you make all the key decisions, write the statements and prepare the spokesperson BEFORE someone asks the question.

If you wait until someone asks the question to start preparing your response to a crisis that you already know about, you have failed in your responsibilities to the organization. The larger an organization the longer it may take to agree on a crisis communications plan, but the evening news or the morning paper have their own deadlines and the worst possible scenario is for them to say your organization was unable to manage a response in time for the story. Of course there are exceptions, but a reactive crisis communications plan means that you do all of the work on the front end with the clear expectations that someone WILL ask the question so that when they do, you can respond quickly and clearly. 

Crisis Communication and Reputation Management

Whether you choose a proactive or reactive crisis communications plan, the ability of your organization to respond in a timely and professional manner is the first and most important step you can take in the reputation management process. Remember, we cannot always avoid the crisis, but we can control how we respond. That ability to respond and face a crisis sets the tone for every news story, boardroom conversation and social media post about your company. Even if we bring the crisis upon ourselves, everyone makes mistakes. More often than not, though, we are judged on how we address and correct those mistakes in the long run.

For more insight on how executives can manage the message during a crisis situation, both internally and externally, be sure to read Ghidotti President and CEO Natalie Ghidotti’s column in Arkansas Business. Or if you realize you are unprepared for the next crisis down the road, get in touch and build the foundation for your crisis communications plan.

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Are You the Next Rock Star on the Ghidotti Team?

The Ghidotti Team is overflowing with full-fledged rock stars. Sure – we’re looking for the best, brightest, most creative, most organized. You get the picture. But what we REALLY want is someone who we can laugh with, depend on, learn from and do great work together. Learn more about who we’re looking for and what you can expect.

Ghidotti is currently hiring a Media Relations Specialist and Fall PR Intern! 

Media Relations Specialist

The media relations specialist should possess superb project management and organizational skills, as well as excellent communication and interpersonal skills with the ability to multitask in a fast-paced environment.

To ensure success, media relations specialists should demonstrate fantastic time management, great creativity with a keen interest in creating and implementing cost-efficient and effective media campaigns, as well as effectively analyze the impact of campaigns on the company’s bottom line.

By assisting the team in the execution of client activities and learning the basics of services offered across all areas of the agency, the media relations specialist will play a crucial role in supporting client service teams. 

Main Responsibilities

  • Write client and internal correspondence effectively and with limited supervision.
  • Develop content for broadcast, print and online distribution channels to include press releases, media advisories, blogs, e-newsletters and website content with limited supervision.
  • Negotiate with media channels to close competitive deals.
  • Serve as the agency’s media liaison and formal spokesperson, and effectively place client messages and spokespeople in target media outlets.
  • Scan the media marketplace to keep up-to-date on the latest media trends.
  • Successfully plan and execute client activities such as media tours, digital and social campaigns, business missions and/or other special events. 
  • Proactively identify story ideas and work with the supervisor to develop.
  • Successfully manage independently the execution of all client content calendars, which can include media relations pitch calendars, blogs, social content and paid media campaigns.
  • Exhibit competency and efficiency in drafting copy for client marketing materials and/or campaigns, such as website content, e-newsletters, collateral materials, paid media campaigns, etc. 
  • As it relates to social/digital media, regularly suggest ideas, manage the planning, and comfortably execute campaigns on behalf of clients. 
  • Assist in the management of interns, when applicable. 
  • Monitor all campaigns, and report on results.
  • Build long-term relationships with media houses.
  • Easily navigate agency platforms such as Cision, TVEyes, Sprout Social, Sprinklr.


Fall PR Intern

We’re looking for a resourceful go-getter who enjoys fast-paced work in an agency environment and is eager to learn the ins and outs of public relations, media relations, social media management and content marketing.Our team members are expected to complete high-quality work, juggle multiple tasks, keep projects on track, and be accountable for results. The right candidate will be a motivated problem-solver who will thrive in a deadline-driven environment.


  • Writing for social media
  • Posting to social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter)
  • Creating Canva graphics
  • Brainstorming/Researching Ideas
  • Logging media clips
  • Assisting with video production and Facebook lives for clients
  • Building media contact lists
  • Uploading content to content management sites for clients
  • Assist with client events
  • Media Relations outreach
  • Attend internal meetings and potentially take notes for client meetings
  • Assist with office errands and organization
  • Assist with general project management and scheduling

What We Want:

  • Experience with writing/posting to social media sites and using Canva is preferred.
  • Experience with photography and/or video creation or production is a plus.
  • Creative problem-solver
  • Organized and able to prioritize work under pressure
  • Strong organizational and time management skills
  • You are resourceful.
  • You are humble.
  • You know what needs to be done because it just comes naturally.
  • You are accurate with an attention to detail.
  • You follow instructions.
  • You have a life outside of work that you love and nurture.
  • You love learning new things.
  • You ask questions when appropriate and know how to Google the simple things like your life depends on it!
  • You treat our clients and your team members with respect.
  • You are funny.
  • You are caring.
  • You are a good friend and co-worker.
  • You are creative and think of brilliant ideas in your sleep.
  • You are resourceful. It’s so important that we’re mentioning it again!

Rock Star Environment

We strive to create a fun, engaging atmosphere where high fives, chicken minis, and celebrations are commonplace. We lift one another up, honor achievements and reward hard work.

  1. Professional Enrichment

    Whether instructor-led, web-based or sharing during Fireside Friday, we are always learning more!

  2. Community Engagement

    We love the state of Arkansas. Our team enjoys outings to locally-owned businesses and pride ourselves on community involvement. In addition, employees are often offered free tickets to community events to get out and enjoy life with friends and family.

  3. Team Building

    Quarterly adventures for the team!

  4. Winter Recess

    We shut this place down at the holidays so we can all rest, relax and reinvigorate for the new year.

  5. Summer Fridays

    We get an early jump on the weekend every Friday during the summer.

  6. Volunteer Time Off (VTO)

    Along with your PTO, you also get VTO to use to support your favorite charity or organization.

Does this describe you?

To apply, please submit the following via email to

  1. Cover letter and PDF of your resume 
  2. References: 2-3 minimum
  3. Tell us how you heard about this position