How to Navigate a Crisis in 2024: Key Lessons and Strategies

Mary Cullen • June 26, 2024

Less than 50% of US businesses have a formal crisis communications plan, but of those that do, 98% of business leaders who activated it say it was effective. That’s according to a 2023 survey by Capterra.

Trends and tools for effectively navigating a crisis may change, but one fact remains: the best way to manage a crisis is to be prepared before it hits.

At this year’s PRWeek Crisis Conference in Washington DC, communications experts from various industries gathered to share new tactics and analyze headline crisis events from recent years. NP Strategy sent two of its crisis team members, myself and Jamie Lovegrove, to absorb the day-long discussion. Below is a summary of key takeaways and best practices in crisis response for 2024.

Key Takeaways from the 2024 PRWeek Crisis Conference

This year’s conference featured insights from major crisis events involving USA Gymnastics, Southwest Airlines, SAG-AFTRA, and renowned crisis expert Risa Heller.

Preparation and Planning

Despite differing conversations around each crisis, every expert stressed the importance of being prepared in advance. This means having a crisis communications plan tailored to your specific business. A one-size-fits-all approach won’t cut it. Your crisis plan should reflect your organization’s mission, vision, and values to genuinely connect with your audience.

Preparation also involves regular crisis drills with media training. NP Strategy offers in-person and virtual media training, placing clients directly in the hot seat with former reporters asking tough questions. This realistic simulation provides valuable real-time feedback, ensuring your team is ready for any media interaction.

Rapid Response

Timely engagement and communication are key pillars of an effective crisis strategy. It’s crucial to reach your stakeholders promptly, but only with accurate information. In times of uncertainty, it’s better to say, “we are working to gather this information as soon as possible” than to share incorrect details or remain silent.

Technology can aid in rapid response, but it must be used cautiously. Tools like AI can be productive, but they require careful oversight. While speed is important, accuracy is paramount to avoid exacerbating the situation. Always review AI-generated content to ensure it retains a human touch.

Case Studies

USA Gymnastics: Rebranding After A Crisis

Jill Geer, Chief Communications & Marketing Officer at USA Gymnastics, shared the organization’s recovery journey following the Larry Nassar abuse scandal in 2016. Post-trial, USA Gymnastics faced perpetual crises, going through multiple CEOs, filing for bankruptcy, hiring new leadership, and reaching a settlement with survivors. Today, USA Gymnastics is viewed more positively, largely due to a comprehensive rebrand focused on transparency and accountability.

The organization addressed its toxic culture from the top down, making significant personnel changes and rebranding to symbolize transformation and athlete-centric values. This approach has helped repair relationships with key stakeholders and shifted public sentiment.

Southwest Airlines: Just Plane… Canceled

In December 2022, Southwest Airlines canceled 16,900 flights during the busiest travel season, becoming the butt of an SNL joke. Whitney Eichner, who became Senior VP and Chief Communications Officer in January 2023, acknowledged the need for swifter action. She immediately prioritized issuing refunds and addressing employee frustrations. Recognizing employees as primary stakeholders, Southwest provided flight points to all staff, demonstrating a commitment to repairing internal relationships.

Ben & Jerry’s: Staying True To Your Flavor

Ben & Jerry’s Director of Public Relations and Communications, Sean Greenwood, highlighted the importance of leading with values. Since 2009, Ben & Jerry’s has taken public stances on social issues, aligning with its brand values. This approach has fostered a dedicated customer base who appreciate the company’s advocacy on topics like gay marriage, GMO labeling, and environmental protection.

Why Partner with NP Strategy

Effective crisis management involves more than ticking boxes or sending timely emails. It requires tailored strategies built uniquely for your organization. Enlisting an experienced crisis communicator is crucial to navigating and overcoming challenges.

NP Strategy is a strategic communications firm specializing in crisis management. Our team of former journalists, politicos, and public relations professionals offers a wealth of expertise beyond industry norms. Learn more about our crisis communications services and contact us to start developing a crisis plan for your organization: NP Strategy Crisis Management.

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