Mastering Crisis Communications, Lessons From a Former Public Information Officer

Kelsey Barlow • June 11, 2024

Big or small, a crisis is any disruption that can impact your company’s operations, reputation and/or stakeholders. We all like to think we respond well under pressure, but oftentimes thinking clearly is farthest from our minds. Having a crisis plan or strategy in place can save you time, money and a lot of frustration in the long run. I worked through several crises during my time as the Public Information Officer at Charleston County Government including hurricanes, major flooding, an ice storm, civil unrest after a jail death and other HR issues. Here are a few key strategies to consider during a crisis: 

1) Act quickly

Time is not your friend during a crisis. Gather information about what has occurred as quickly as possible. 

2) Don’t ignore the media

“No comment” = “I’m guilty.” Don’t let others tell your story. Carefully crafted messaging can help shape the narrative even if you aren’t able to share everything. If necessary, recognize any wrongdoing, express empathy for those involved, focus on strategies moving forward, and restate what your mission/focus is as a company. 

3) Know your stakeholders and how to reach them

One of the biggest takeaways as a PIO is knowing who your stakeholders are. Remember, oftentimes they are also your employees. When a hurricane threatens the coast, it wasn’t just residents who we needed to communicate with. It is also the hundreds of employees who need to make plans for their families and pets before preparing to report to work emergency operations during a storm. Charleston County is huge and there are rural areas where not everyone uses social media or the internet to get their information. Knowing who your audience is, is just as important as knowing how to reach them.

4) Evaluation

Continue to monitor the situation. Track any media reporting and understand the public sentiment involving the crisis. Adjust messaging if necessary. 

A crisis doesn’t have to be the end of your brand or company. Learn more about the crisis services NP Strategy offers at

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