A new study of 400 PR professionals has highlighted how often reputational crises hit organisations – despite what many would like to believe – and how speed of response is an increasingly difficult challenge.

On the positive side, the research, by risk monitoring firm Crisp, found most organisations have an up-to-date crisis comms plan. Thirty two per cent have one that’s continually updated and 28% one that’s been recently updated. This combined 60% is notably more than the 50% a Nasdaq survey found in 2016.

In a similar vein, 68% ‘regularly’ or ‘periodically’ review the reputational risks they face. And 79% said their CEO was ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ willing to invest in robust crisis preparation.

This is all good – and another finding hammers home the importance of being ‘crisis-ready’ in this way.

The survey found 83% suffered one or more problems that could have harmed their reputations in the last 12 months.

Eleven per cent suffered as many of 10 to 20 such issues, and 6% suffered more than 20.

Only 17% escaped unscathed.

This should be a wake up call to the many organisations (40%, in this study) who still stick their head in the sand and hope bad things won’t happen to them.

On the negative side, the survey shows how many organisations struggle with the rapid pace at which crises can engulf them in these days of digital communications and a 24-hour global economy.

Only 29% said they’d find out about reputational problems breaking online ‘as they happen.’ A third said they’d become aware at some point that working day or later. And 1.45% said it would take them a week!

When it comes to a major problem breaking at 3am, only 40% said they’d be alerted straight away – most being blissfully unaware until they get into work the next morning. Once upon a time this may have been OK. Given the pace at which negative issues can spread today, a 3am problem could already be a disaster by 9am.

This ties in with the 54% in the survey saying one of their biggest problems in times of crisis is ‘reacting fast enough’ — the other biggies being ‘knowing when to react’, ‘preparing the right response’ and ‘having enough resources to handle it well’.

Finally, my prize for the oddest findings (and question) goes to ‘At what point would you classify a PR issue as a PR crisis?’

The answers are strange as many of them miss the point. Surely ‘when another department needs to be involved’, ‘when it was entirely unexpected’ and ‘when it relates to a previous issue’ in no way define a crisis (though I’d agree two other answers – ‘when it needs to be on the CEO’s radar’ and ‘when a high profile media outlet picks it up’ – are relevant). An incidence could tick all three of these boxes and be no crisis at all.

The question itself is odd in asking when a ‘PR issue’ becomes a ‘PR crisis.’ I hear this kind of language a lot and always makes me question the organisation’s understanding of a crisis.

Organisations should instead be looking at when business problems become reputational crises. Labelling these matters as ‘PR’ trivialises them as perception glitches and reinforces organisations’ tendencies to pigeon-hole them as ‘things for the PR team to sort out’.

True reputational crises run deeper than that, and the board almost always needs to be involved.


See more on our crisis communications services, and our other crisis related news and blog posts.

The study, titled ‘PR crisis preparedness survey: responding to crises in a digital age,’ was undertaken by risk monitoring firm Crisp and can be downloaded here.