Protecting your brand when crisis hits

By Betsy McCloskey / Guest Column

In today’s social media landscape, information about your organization and your employees travels at the speed of light, covering not only the communities in which you do business but the entire world. Unfortunately, bad news travels faster than good news.

Picture this: It’s a normal Wednesday morning, but upon arriving to work, you realize the worst thing imaginable has happened. Suddenly, your company is in the center of a crisis. Perhaps your product caused a death, someone in leadership made an inappropriate comment that went viral or a new construction job that was supposed to have gone out to bid instead went to a friend of your VP. You haven’t even poured your second cup of coffee and now every media outlet is relentlessly calling your CEO – or worse, standing in your lobby. They want to talk to someone, anyone.

Some organizations decide to appoint an internal spokesperson, but that is rarely a good idea. This decision results in several challenges:

  • Most executives or internal marketers are not schooled in handling the media in a crisis PR situation. Working with the press in these situations has as much to do with the spokesperson’s relationship with the media as it does with how well they handle their emotions when things get heated. There is no question that media relationships are key in a crisis.
  • The spokesperson must be willing to work with legal counsel and only tell what is true while not causing more damage than the crisis itself. This person must be able to handle the potential media storm that results from the public statement.
  • Internal leaders have a job to do to keep the company running. When their attention is diverted to managing a crisis, the company’s bottom line may take a double hit.
  • Once the event blows over, your internal spokesperson will forever be tied to that disaster and will be asked about it for months or years to come.


Often, it is best to hire an outside public relations specialist, someone who can take the wheel and navigate your organization through the situation. An outside expert can see the bigger picture. This person will understand the need to work as a team with your legal counsel and can keep your company, the media outlets and your clients on the same page with the facts of the story, avoiding rumors.

A qualified external crisis professional can keep the workplace situation separate from personal drama. When a crisis action plan must be developed, internal staff may find it difficult to ask the hard questions and implement the necessary plan of attack. For example, “Did John know about the defect? Does Mary have a history of inappropriate comments? Does Frank’s spouse know of this situation?”

An external communication expert has only one objective: to help your company get through a crisis with as little damage as possible. Outsourcing in these situations is typically the safest bet, allowing the situation to be controlled by someone experienced in crisis management with an external view of the crisis.

Betsy McCloskey is a partner at Plaid Swan Inc. with offices in Cedar Rapids and Dubuque. Plaid Swan is a female-owned and operated marketing communications firm.