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27th November 2015

Is Crisis Communications PR?

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Crisis communications is often packaged with public relations (PR) both in the agencies that provide the services and in the minds of people who actually know little if anything about either communications discipline, but are the two actually particularly similar?

The Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) describes PR as “the discipline which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour.”

By this definition Crisis Communications is certainly a part of PR, but I would suggest to you that the formal definition isn’t really the point.

Look closely at what people who describe themselves as working in PR actually do. In my experience, in practical terms, PR is much more narrowly defined than the above definition would suggest.

Most PR is designed to increase revenue by increasing the positive profile of a company or cause. PR agencies often demonstrate their value to clients with press clipping books – a measure of just how much attention they generated for the company.

What then is the role of crisis communications? In many ways the opposite.

Crisis communication is usually focused on getting a company’s name out of the headlines as quickly as possible. In a very simplistic sense, a completely empty press clippings book could be evidence of good crisis management.

Navigate Response (crisis communications) shares an office with Navigate PR (public relations) and at some levels the employees of the two companies share common skills. We can all write well, have good attention to detail, have an eye for what makes a good story, and can connect with journalists and clients alike, but, in other ways, our skill sets are diametrically opposed.

When I see an “interesting” story about one of our clients I look for ways to put it in a context and explain it so that it appears as routine as possible. As any first responder will tell you, you know your training was good when the emergency seems just like a drill and is almost boring – this is the calm that I aim to portray to the media and the public.

My colleagues on the PR side have the opposite skill set. When they see something (even something boring) about a client company, they look for ways to make the story standout, appear exciting and different and stir the passions of journalists and the public.

In short, PR makes a story more interesting than it naturally is while crisis comms makes a story less interesting.

The definition of PR might appear to include crisis communications, but beyond the definition PR and crisis communications are very different disciplines requiring distinct skill sets.

In many ways, crisis communications is best thought of as the ‘anti-PR’.

Dustin Eno
Crisis Response

T: +44 (0)20 3326 8467
E: dustin.eno@navigateresponse.com

Twitter: @dustineno

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