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 for three positions listed below – Account Executive, Account Supervisor and Media Relations Manager.

Account Executive Job Description: 

In the Account Executive position, emphasis is placed on growing independent work within the areas of project management, client relations, media relations, digital/marketing, and/or lead generation among other skills. You are the face to our clients and will play an integral role in daily communication and should be able to demonstrate tactical excellence. 

  • Write client and internal correspondence effectively and with limited supervision.
  • Successfully plan and execute client activities such as media tours, digital and social campaigns, business missions and/or other special events. 
  • Proactively identify blog content story ideas and work with the supervisor to develop. 
  • Develop relevant blogs, e-newsletters and website content effectively and with limited supervision. 
  • 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. Efficiency with Canva, a plus!
  • Assist in the management of interns, when applicable. 
  • Be proficient in WordPress.
  • Easily navigate agency platforms such as Cision, TVEyes, Sprout Social, Sprinklr.
  • Depending on the needs of the service area, responsibilities may extend beyond the items above as skill sets, client contracts and other extenuating circumstances dictate.

Apply for this open position by emailing Bethany Siems at bethany@ghidotti.com.

 

Account Supervisor Job Description: 
In the Account Supervisor position, a staff member will be responsible for assisting and managing the public relations, content marketing, digital media, account services and/or creative/strategy for clients. This position requires fully developed specialty skills, a strong understanding of the industry landscape and an understanding of client priorities and objectives.
  • Serve as the account strategist/lead and oversee/play a clear leadership role on at least three clients.
  • Manage the implementation of work plans and ensure client deliverables are successfully met on deadline.
  • Play a leadership role in the sales process by identifying additional services to sell to existing clients and assisting with RFP responses, new business proposals, presentations, etc. with senior leadership or independently.
  • Display a strong understanding of and effectively communicate Ghidotti’s service offerings to existing clients.
  • Successfully supervise at least one junior staff member, including providing guidance on their professional growth.
  • Begin to play a role in the agency’s marketing efforts, guiding aspects of certain campaigns and/or helping to execute in their areas of expertise.

Account Services: 

  • Play a clear leadership role in the planning and execution of integrated marketing campaigns for clients.
  • Develop and write comprehensive strategic marketing plans for clients.
  • Handle vendor contracts and ensure proper billing.
  • Demonstrate a clear track record of successfully meeting deadlines and timelines.
  • Handle day-of logistics on behalf of clients, responding quickly and effectively.
  • Assist in providing leadership and professional development on client relations, helping team members improve their skills in managing conflict, presentations, sales, etc.

Client Strategy: 

  • Develop or oversee the visual content creation for client materials, including e-newsletters, website content, digital campaigns, marketing collateral, etc.
  • Oversee the development of marketing materials and branding campaigns.
  • Manage creative marketing campaigns on behalf of clients.
  • Demonstrate a clear track record of leading brainstorms, and providing and implementing creative ideas for proposals, presentations, etc.
  • Continually provide new and ‘fresh’ ideas for proposals, new business proposals and current clients’ marketing campaigns.

Apply for this open position by emailing Bethany Siems at bethany@ghidotti.com.

 

Media Relations Manager Job Description: 

In the Media Relations Manager position, a staff member will be responsible for assisting and managing the public relations, content marketing, digital media, account services and/or strategy for clients. This position requires fully developed specialty skills, a strong understanding of the public relations industry landscape and an understanding of client priorities and objectives. 

Main Responsibilities – General: 

  • Serve as the account strategist/lead and oversee/play a clear leadership role on media relations client accounts.
  • Display a strong understanding of and effectively communicate Ghidotti’s service offerings to existing clients. 
  • Successfully supervise at least one junior staff member, including providing guidance on their professional growth.

Main Responsibilities – Media Relations: 

  • Develop strategic media relations plans, direct management and outreach for client accounts with the supervision of Senior Leadership.
  • Perform with Senior Leadership to prepare a plan for strategic crisis communications.
  • Manage and facilitate the execution of media relations outreach for special events, programs and major initiatives.
  • Perform as spokesperson and coordinates official responses to media inquiries.
  • Conduct media training with clients in preparation for external media interviews. 
  • Support framing and development of main message points for better positioning prior to media interviews.
  • Prepare speeches, talking points and varied communications materials assisting client spokespersons.
  • Write pitches, backgrounders, press releases, key messages and blog posts.
  • Manage and monitor reporter hotline, client media relations calendar, metrics, media relations processes and press release approvals.
  • Propose ideas proactively for media pitches to stimulate media coverage.
  • Consistently pitch stories and secure strategic media placements assisting client reputation and business goals.
  • Manage and supervise media events along with initiatives defining company stories.
  • Identify proactive stories for trade, business as well as consumer media across multiple client industries.
  • Develop and maintain close media relations to improve press efforts.
  • Identify brands promoting opportunities and improve awareness of services and products.

Main Responsibilities – Client Strategy: 

  • Develop or oversee the visual content creation for client materials, including e-newsletters, website content, digital campaigns (webinar/live stream events), etc.
  • Demonstrate a clear track record of leading brainstorms and providing and implementing creative ideas for proposals, presentations, etc.
  • Continually provide new and ‘fresh’ ideas for new business proposals and current clients’ PR campaigns.

Apply for this open position by emailing Bethany Siems at bethany@ghidotti.com.

 

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Does this describe you?

Apply for one of our open positions or just send us an email letting us know why you should be part of this Rock Star team. Email bethany@ghidotti.com.