Article | 24 Jul 2018

Crisis Communications in the Digital Age

Posted in Freelancer, Top tips, Tools & Advice, Learning, Events,

With a shift from the 24-hour news cycle to the ‘nanosecond news cycle', everyone with a mobile phone is a potential journalist waiting to break and share your news.

So in this wild west of digital media, how as an Independent Consultant can you make sure you are equipped with the skills and expertise to both advise your clients, potentially mitigate and successfully manage a crisis?

To answer this question, Alice Weightman CMPRCA, CEO of The Work Crowd & chairman of the PRCA Independent Consultant’s Group, led a masterclass with an expert panel on the 10th of July to discuss crisis communications in the digital age, featuring:

  • Justin Roux: Managing Director at Shift Actions. A former Crisis Director of a global manufacturing company, his practices and procedures have resolved incidents from government affairs, pollution, murder, kidnapping, serious fraud, health & safety incidents to the sinking oil rig and a famous serial killer.
  • Tim Jotischky MPRCA: Director of Consultancy at The PHA Group. Jotischky was Editor of Metro, Deputy Editor of the Sunday Telegraph, Business Editor of Telegraph Media Group, Editor of the Scottish Daily Mail and held several senior executive positions on the Daily Mail before joining the agency in 2014.
  • Caroline Randle MPRCA: Independent Senior Corporate Communications Consultant with over 20 years experience advising some of the world’s most innovative businesses such as Microsoft, General Electric, MP3, GSK and ARM.

In case you missed it, read on for all the highlights from our panel!

Justin Roux: An in-house perspective

Over the past 11 years, Justin has worked as the Crisis Director for a global manufacturing company. On behalf of the company, he has handled seven deaths, five incidents of pollution, three financial crises, four cases of extortion, four reputation cases, three serious fraud expositions, two murders, and one famous serial killer.

Crisis vs. Incident:

“It's important to keep a calm head. There’s a big difference between an incident and a crisis. A crisis is an incident that has gotten out of control.”


“The object of a crisis action plan is that within two phone calls, any critical incident is matched with an efficient chain of management to the most appropriate person in the company. My target was three hours to assemble a crisis response team. My record was 45 minutes. That’s from first discovery.”

Don’t tell people what to do, tell them how and why:

“A member of staff in Finland was brutally murdered and the Finnish press were all over us. I made the mistake of giving a statement to all our staff and, because they were told what to do instead of how and why, there was a lack of emotion and it immediately raised the suspicion of every journalist there.”

Emotional Alignment:

“Learning from that previous incident. The next time a staff member sadly passed away in the workplace, staff gave this statement :

‘Matthew has sadly died. He was a good friend of all of ours and we’re all very upset. We will comply with everything to do with occupational health and safety, and we’re doing a full investigation. We’d like to be left alone during this time, because one of our good friends has just died.’

Suddenly everyone has emotional alignment and they could tell their story in their own way, which meant that they spoke with authenticity."

“88% of companies delete harmful content off their social media accounts. 88% are doing the wrong thing. When you create a social media channel, you are creating communities that care about your company message and care about things you care about. So when someone says something negative, they have the opportunity to rally and express whatever it was that made them join you in the first place.“

Be clear with response plans & who they’re for:

“For every single plant we had, there was one crisis representative who was trained in incident response. They had two deputies and they would contact me (the Crisis Director) in case of a serious incident. If your crisis policy is anything longer than eight pages, the only thing it will be used for is propping the door open.”

Leave a door open

“We’re living in the digital era. My advice is: keep the door open. If you have one really good social media platform, that’s the door into your company and people will get to know you at that door.  If something happens, the first place they’ll go is to that door. But if they can’t get through, they’ll go to the chimney or burrow in. Look after your social media accounts well.”


Tim Jotischky: A journalist’s perspective

Don’t give journalist the chance to fill a vacuum:

“When I got into consultancy, the thing that really surprised me is how many of my clients were really fearful of journalists. The mistake people make is thinking journalists are out to get you. It’s rarely ever the case. Their motivation is usually just to keep their editor happy. So if you leave a vacuum, journalists will fill it with conjecture.”

How to keep journalists happy:

“Now more than ever, journalists want to be ahead of the story. When you are in the midst of a crisis, you need to have something to say. If you don’t, you will upset journalists and they will find a story. Journalist do not respond well to corporate jargon. If anyone thinks that ‘off the record’ is a thing, it’s not.”

Your CEO isn’t always the best spokesperson:

“When you’re in crisis mode, its important to gather the right information, the right team, and decide on your best spokesperson. When you bring out the CEO by default, you are indicating that this is a serious situation, when that might not be warranted.”

Be Open:

“Be transparent. If you don’t know, don’t make it up. You will be found out. Get the tone right. Don’t use jargon and don’t be a prisoner of lawyers. Avoid the bunker mentality.”

Internal Communications is just as important!

“Don’t forget internal communications. Employees can be your most powerful advocates, but also the most dangerous if you ignore them.”

Don’t become complacent:

“Don’t ignore the 24 hour news cycle. You can’t just think because you have dealt with a situation once, then that’s it.”  


Caroline Randle: From the Consultants view

It’s not all about the process:

“Fifteen years ago, a crisis manual was very popular. People sometimes spent up to twelve months writing them and they were never read. It’s not all about the process. It is easy to hide behind process and use it as a safety blanket.”

Media training, know what’s going on in the world:

“Recently I was involved with media training for a senior executive. He never listened or read the news. The days of having someone brief you are over. When doing media training, you need to instil into your senior executive that knowing the news is part of their job.”

It shouldn’t be hard to say sorry:

“What has changed is that everyone nowadays is a reporter. In the case of the recent United Airlines incident, we were able to see live footage of a man being dragged off a plane. It happened on a Sunday evening and they didn’t put a statement out until Monday lunch time. When they finally did, their first statement contained no apology. Further statements eventually included an apology, but they lacked humanity and fell on deaf ears. It was too little, too late. Their share price also took a hammering as a result.

“Once you make your apology, you need to follow up with action, otherwise it’s an empty apology.”

If you do mess up, you can recover. How KFC did it:

“Initially their first statement was just not good enough. They simply said: ‘getting fresh chicken to 900 stores is complex’. Social media went into overdrive. Now, remember what they did well. The took a risk with their ‘FCK’ apology. It was sincere though and that got a great reaction from social media. Their approval rating went back to where it always was.”  

If you missed out on this event, then make sure you come along to our next PRCA masterclass on Influencer Marketing on the 12th of September!