21 Effective Crisis Management Plan Examples

A crisis could affect your finances, reputation, and resources. Whatever happens, an effective crisis comms plan is needed to deal with the unexpected issues efficiently. We’ll talk about some successful crisis management examples.

published: November 18, 2022
updated: March 11, 2024

What is crisis management?

Crisis management is managing potential threats and mitigating the damage they could do.

A company can deal with a crisis if it knows what to do should such a situation arise. Working to reposition the company, communicating effectively, and making plans to ensure it doesn’t happen again are all part of crisis management.

Identifying and responding to problems as soon as they arise is essential. By doing so, you can control your narrative and messaging more strongly. See below for our excellent PR crisis handling examples.

Learn more about crisis management

Why is it important ?

You've probably heard the saying, "when it rains it pours." The meaning behind this is that when something bad happens, other bad things usually occur at the same time. This is no truer than when a crisis strikes. Crises often trigger a domino effect where one problem leads to another. A data breach is one thing, but further investigations may expose other security weaknesses, leading to legal issues and loss of customer trust. Lesson: when one crisis happens, you're more susceptible to another.

A crisis management plan helps prepare for such scenarios. With a well-devised plan, you can lessen (or even avoid) a crisis. Long-term reputation damage and revenue loss are less likely when your staff are fully prepared for the unexpected. Bad news spreads like wildfire, and your actions (or lack thereof) will be broadcast online, where they'll likely stay for a long time. An unexpected crisis will also drag teams away from their usual objectives, possible leading to slower business growth.

21 great crisis communication examples

We’ve collected twenty examples of brands that have achieved effective crisis management, highlighting various approaches. No one size fits all, but you’ll notice some common themes of what works.

1

KFC

What could be worse than a chicken restaurant running out of chicken? KFC managed to do just that in the UK in a situation called Chickengate. They simultaneously had significant problems with suppliers, logistics companies, and other supply chain issues, causing a lack of chicken arriving at restaurants resulting in their restaurants needing to close. However, the way that KFC dealt with it was to see the funny side. They made light of the situation and were honest. They made clear that they would not sacrifice quality. By conveying their standards, they prioritized their customers and reputation.

KFC crisis communication example

KFC then followed up with this:

Crisis communication PR KFC

It is noticeable that they followed up on this announcement with a hilarious campaign to poke fun at themselves. Featured in UK newspapers, the ad apologized for needing to close some stores. It also worked to increase their brand recognition. You could even argue that they came out of this better than before the chicken shortage started.

2

The Virgin Group

A Virgin Galactic aircraft crashed during a test flight in the Mojave Desert in California. One pilot was killed and another seriously injured. The company took several steps to manage the crisis. Firstly, they provided the public details on the crash. They then connected with the families of the two pilots to show their empathy.

PR crisis example

Virgin immediately took responsibility for the tragic incident. Company founder Richard Branson also expressed his sympathies. This is one of the best crisis management examples.

3

Pepsi

Pepsi launched a campaign with a television commercial featuring Kendall Jenner. The "storyline" was Jenner casually leaving a modeling shoot where she joins protesters (whose "banners" display the Pepsi logo) and hands a Pepsi can to a policeman who opens and drinks it, much to the delight of the "protesters." The social justice element Pepsi was looking to benefit from was widely mocked and came across as superficial and insincere. So how did Pepsi handle this embarrassment? After sticking by it with a statement mentioning the importance of harmony, they went back on it, paused the ad entirely, and apologized for missing the mark.

Crisis management PR Pepsi

The result? By admitting the error early on, Pepsi showed how much they understood they got it wrong and managed to save themselves from any long-term damage. People soon forgot about the incident, and Pepsi carried on being Pepsi.

4

Slack

In 2022, the online messaging company Slack suffered a service outage causing many users to lose access to the application for nearly five hours. The issue was eventually found to be due to a configuration change.

Slack public relations crisis example

Slack kept users updated on the issue, even detailing errors they made during the process. Their tone was sincere and apologetic but also humorous. The big takeaway? Transparency and honesty for the win here.

5

Aldi

When Aldi produced a cake in the shape of a caterpillar named Cuthbert that strongly resembled a cake owned by M&S named Colin. M&S took action against Aldi, claiming that its Cuthbert the Caterpillar cake infringed the trademarked ‘Colin the Caterpillar cake. This sparked a Twitter conversation between the two supermarkets, not to mention cake fans. Using the new hashtag #FreeCuthbert, Aldi launched a series of Tweets that quickly trended on Twitter. Aldi fans joined in, retweeting them and showing their support.

Aldi stores negative PR example

During the Christmas period of 2021, Aldi offered to "kiss and make up" with M&S, saying, "This isn't just any peace offering, this is…" (a clever play on a famous M&S advertising slogan). It was a masterclass in using social to your advantage to engage. In any event, Cuthbert seemed to have the last laugh, remaining on Aldi's shelves after the two stores reached an agreement.

6

Tide

The Tide Pod Challenge was an online challenge that involved eating the washing detergent Tide in the form of pods made by Procter & Gamble. The craze sent some teenagers to the hospital. The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission had to appear on television to address the dangers of ingesting laundry detergent. Using football player Rob Gronkowski as a spokesperson, they launched a campaign to prevent this dangerous behavior. This is an example of crisis communication done well.

Tide crisis communication example

Tide sought to shift the narrative to make the challenge seem uncool by leveraging the celebrity of a well-known and liked sports star.

7

Johnson and Johnson

Johnson & Johnson is an extensive healthcare and pharmaceutical manufacturer. One product, Tylenol, was found to contain cyanide, causing the deaths of seven people. The cause of the tampering was never solved. Johnson & Johnson immediately halted advertising and sent nearly half a million messages to healthcare facilities. A safety warning was also issued to consumers. They could have attributed the incident to one-off sabotage and kept the products on the shelves, but they didn't. Instead, Johnson & Johnson pulled all of the products off the shelves, thus costing them millions to protect the public and avoid further outrage. In addition, they established a hotline for worried customers to address any concerns they may have regarding Tylenol capsules. Johnson & Johnson's response provided the benchmark in crisis management in public safety situations. As such, their products are still everywhere around the world today. Good job.

Johnson media crisis management example
8

Cracker Barrel

In 2017, a man named Bradey Reid posted on the Cracker Barrel company website, asking why his wife was fired from the retail job she’d had for 11 years. Soon, the hashtag #JusticeforBradsWife began trending. Over 17,000 people signed a Change.org petition looking for answers. Yelp and Google pages for the brand began displaying photos of Brad's wife. In response to Cracker Barrel's lousy publicity, other fast food chains pounced, including Chick-fil-A, which displayed the sign “Now Hiring Brad's Wife!” Ouch! The restaurant's crisis management strategy was not to treat this as a crisis. The movement and Brad's wife were never mentioned publicly by them or on their social channels.

Cracker Barrel Crisis Management Example

Cracker Barrel “stared down the barrel” and came out unscathed. There was no evidence that the crisis negatively affected the brand financially. Unusually, as Cracker Barrel shows, silence is sometimes the most effective way to communicate during emergencies. Today, most customers are either unaware or have forgotten about it.

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9

Southwest Airlines

The company provides a great example of crisis management through social media. A Southwest Airlines flight landed nose-first at an airport in New York due to the captain's decision to take control of the airplane at 27 feet above the ground, which did not allow her adequate time to correct the airplane's deteriorating energy state and prevent the nose landing gear from striking the runway. Southwest responded quickly on social media, where they were open and honest. They controlled the story for an incident that could have rapidly garnered the worst attention. Customers praised the airline for its speedy response. The company clearly had a plan for such an incident and put it into full swing.

Southwest Airlines public relations crisis example
10

Red Cross

Imagine you work at the Red Cross in their social media team and accidentally confuse their social media channel with your own. Well, this is precisely what happened to one unfortunate worker.

The tweet from @RedCross was this:

Red Cross PR crisis management example

Red Cross responded well to the situation, seeing the funny side and explaining the error.

Red Cross crisis management example

This tweet from the Red Cross was cleverly turned into an opportunity to engage with the public. They posted on their corporate blog to explain the situation, show humanity, and engage fans. The employee who made a mistake even weighed in with the same tone of humor and humility. It can look shady when you delete a tweet if you have a large audience who notices these things, and anything "deleted" on social media can surface to haunt you later. However, the Red Cross did the right thing by apologizing for the tweet, deleting it, and explaining with humor that it was all an unintended error. A crisis was averted.

11

JC Penney

In a bizarre incident, a billboard ad for a teapot that a department store made seemed to resemble Hitler vaguely. After one user commented on Reddit, it opened the floodgates. JC Penney somewhat humorously responded, saying it was unintentional.

JC Penny crisis PR

Their response went down quite well, and they managed to sell plenty of the teapots!

The crisis management success here was due to not ignoring and being sensitive to the power of social media. A silly comment can snowball into a PR crisis if not dealt with immediately and effectively. The tone and style of the response are essential too.

12

Carrefour

A group of white security guards killed a 40-year-old Black man outside a Carrefour supermarket in Brazil. Brazilians and other concerned citizens around the world were outraged by videos taken by bystanders of the brutal attack posted on social media. The CEO and chairman of Carrefour even intervened to tweet. After the incident, Carrefour announced that they would terminate their contract with the security firm and take immediate legal action against them. Aside from that, they also promised to conduct a review of security, diversity, and tolerance training for employees and contractors and to close the store in respect of the victim.

Carrefour crisis communication example

Leadership visibility was shown in this crisis communication to reinforce the horror of the incident and how it did not reflect company values.

13

Burger King

When attempting to celebrate and draw attention to its female chefs, Burger King offered this tweet:

Burger King crisis PR

The general public did not take the tweet well. The intention was to make fun of this sexist phrase, but the tone got lost on Twitter. Burger King UK deleted the Tweet and immediately posted an apology and an explanation of their intentions, quickly calming the fallout.

Burger King crisis communication PR
14

Gucci

This is an example of a crisis that was not immediate and became an issue one month later. Despite that, it was pretty severe. Gucci created a polo neck jumper that was said to resemble blackface. The incident provoked strong reactions from many as people took to social media to share their thoughts. Gucci was quick to act, though, when this happened. As a precaution, they removed the sweater from store shelves, followed by an apology on their official Twitter account. They described the event as a "powerful learning moment." This was viewed as a gesture of respect and humility in the eyes of their customers, and all was well again in the house of Gucci.

Public relations crisis example Gucci

By announcing plans to launch global scholarship platforms around the globe, the company presented itself in an extremely positive light.

15

Nike

When Nike shoes fell apart mid-game, causing an injury for Zion Williamson live on television, the writing could easily have been on the wall for Nike. As one might have expected, Twitter erupted, and the stock price fell by 1.8% the day after. Nike’s competitors also jumped on the bandwagon, as you can see.

Crisis PR example Nike

In an official statement, Nike wished Williamson all the best. Additionally, company representatives stated they were working to identify the problem to alleviate concerns. They wasted no time in doing so. An investigation team was dispatched by Nike to the stadium the day after the incident. A visit to Nike's factory in China followed. In response, the company developed a unique pair of shoes for Williamson. Thanking them for their kindness, they resolved the problem. Swift movement is vital, as is thoughtfulness. The company demonstrated a commitment to improvement, problem-solving, and personally resolving the situation for Williamson.

16

Sephora

Singer SZA tweeted about how one Sephora employee allegedly accused her of attempting to steal from the store and called security to prevent the alleged theft attempt. The shop employee was accused of discrimination, while Sephora took to social media. They thanked SZA for bringing the matter to their attention and apologized directly to her. She was assured that complaints like this would be dealt with immediately. Also, they were already working on it.

Sephora crisis PR example
17

Buffer

Thirty thousand users of Buffer were affected by a hack. Buffer sent out an email to their customers before they were even aware. By getting ahead of the story, showing they were taking it seriously, keeping their customers updated, and upgrading security measures. While Buffer's service was down, its team effectively handled the crisis across social media and email. It responded a little over fifteen minutes after the first reports of the hack. They did this on a Saturday afternoon when no one was in the office.

Buffer crisis management example

They reassured people and offered extra transparency by providing regular, meaningful updates across channels. They were able to prevent it from happening again. Buffer owned the situation, saying, ‘we’ve taken key security measures: we have added additional encryption.’ Social media can be helpful in times of crisis management.

18

Wholefoods

WholeFoods overcharged their customers for pre-packaged food by mislabeling the weight and charging for packaging. Social media contained negative criticism, and a customer brought a lawsuit against Wholefoods. It admitted its error six days later (a pretty long time). The CEOs eventually posted a video on social media where it admitted to its mistakes, owned up to them, and told customers what they were doing to fix them. However, not all of this went down well. They mentioned “weighing errors” due to their “hands-on approach to bringing you fresh food”. As a result, this headline appeared in Slate: "Whole Foods Apologizes for Systematically Lying about Prices," and the Washington Post produced this: "Whole Foods Admits Overcharging, Blames Employees." Not a good look.

However, they did win praise for confirming what they would do to rectify the issue moving forward. “We are improving our training regarding in-store packaging, weighing, and labeling processes,” reads the statement accompanying the video. “Additionally, we have implemented a companywide third-party auditing process for all of our stores, and we will provide an update in the next 45 days so that customers can follow our progress.” This provided customers (who called them #wholecheck on social media) with confidence. Wholefoods learned the value of addressing issues when they arise (not 6 days later) and that it is crucial to live the brand values you espouse.

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19

Chipotle

Chipotle Mexican Grill temporarily closed more than 40 restaurants in and around Seattle and Portland in response to an E.coli outbreak. To directly apologize to customers affected by the crisis, Ells even appeared on The Today Show and purchased full-page newspaper ads. As the situation was being handled, they kept customers informed.

Chiplote PR crisis example
20

DKNY

DKNY was accused of using a photographer's photo in one of their retail stores without permission. The company said it was a mistake, as the store in Bangkok used "an internal mock-up containing some of Mr. Stanton's images, that was intended to show the direction of the spring visual program merely." DKNY responded quickly with an apology and a charitable donation of $25,000 to the YMCA - the charity the photographer requested they support instead of paying him. In the statement from DKNY, posted on the photographer’s Facebook page, the company said: "For our Spring 2013 store window visuals, we decided to celebrate the city in our name by showcasing 'Only in NYC' images. “We greatly respect Brandon Stanton, aka Humans of New York, and approached him to work with us on this visual program.“

DKNY crisis comms example
21

Childs Farm

When a mother’s social media post about a cream from skincare brand Childs Farm that improved her daughter’s skin condition became a viral sensation, amassing more than 35,000 shares, it led to an unexpected surge in demand. Warehouses and shop shelves soon sold out of the cream, leading to a potential supply chain crisis for the firm.

Fortunately, recognizing the importance of strong business relationships and investing in their partners from the get-go, they could count on their suppliers to ramp up production for them, opening up lines of supply day and night to meet the extraordinarily high demand. The result? Retailers could refill their shelves, customer demand was satisfied, and the business successfully averted a crisis. This case shows the importance of having an effective crisis management plan in place and the sudden impact of social media.

How to create a crisis management plan

Assess risk and scenarios

The first step in any crisis management plan is to assess all possible risks. Not each risk is as likely as the other, or poses the same threat level. Resources and planning should be based on its likelihood and impact. If data breaches are more likely and harmful than severe weather, allocate resources accordingly.

Establish a team

Select the people who will take on board the various tasks needed. This could be based on the area of the business where the crisis impacts, or people's skills sets. You want your product team working with you during a product recall, or legal during a data breach. Despite the multi-team effort, it is often best to have a spokesperson who will be the face of the company during this time. Having "one voice" will mean message clarity and less confusion for the media and audiences.

Establish protocol

This includes the hierarchies, pre-approved responses, what gets sent and when, backup plans for business continuity, and the resources needed for various scenarios. The protocol should also include any internal communication plans.

Create relevant and useful comms

Sources such as factsheets, Q&A documents, and social media communication strategies are helpful to share with stakeholders and the public. It can mean a lot of questions or concerns can be quelled quite easily, instead of jamming up phone lines or your social media, and used to reassure people.

Activate the plan

Time to communicate the message. In an ideal world, you will be the first to communicate the message rather than the media. But this doesn't always happen. You should be ready for questions and to address people directly on social media. This helps control the narrative and mitigate the potential damage stemming from it.

Assess, review, and update the plan

The nature of a crisis means that threats change over time, and no plan will stay timeproof. Update it over time to consider new threats, people changing roles, and any improvements that can be made to the process or team performance. Find ways to optimize it for the future (speed of response, removal of inefficiencies, etc.)

It's imperative that brands quickly recognize and act accordingly to any threats to their being. Use these steps when designing your response strategy.

Check-list for PR teams

Identify Crisis Spokespersons: Determine who will serve as official spokespeople for the organization during the crisis. Designate primary and backup spokespersons with media training and clear communication skills.

Establish Communication Protocols: Develop clear communication protocols and channels for internal and external communications during the crisis. Ensure that all team members understand their roles and responsibilities and have access to the necessary communication tools and resources.

Prepare Holding Statements: Draft holding statements or initial responses to acknowledge the crisis and reassure stakeholders that the organization is aware and taking action. These statements should be concise, empathetic, and transparent, without speculating or assigning blame prematurely.

Craft Key Messages: Develop key messages that align with the organization's values, priorities, and desired outcomes. These messages should address the crisis, communicate the organization's response and actions, and reinforce its commitment to transparency and accountability.

Prepare Spokesperson Briefings: Provide thorough briefings and media training for designated spokespeople to ensure they are prepared to effectively communicate key messages, handle tough questions from journalists, and maintain composure under pressure.

Activate Crisis Response Team: Activate the crisis response team and establish a command center or designated communication hub to coordinate response efforts, disseminate information, and make decisions in real-time.

Engage Stakeholders: Communicate proactively with stakeholders, including employees, customers, partners, suppliers, investors, and regulatory authorities, to keep them informed about the crisis and any impact on their interests.

Coordinate Internal Communications: Communicate internally with employees to keep them informed about the crisis, provide guidance on how to respond to inquiries, and reassure them about the organization's response and actions.

Coordinate External Communications: Coordinate external communications, including press releases, media statements, social media updates, and website notifications, to provide timely and accurate information to the media, public, and other stakeholders.

Monitor Media and Social Media: Implement robust media and social media monitoring to track news coverage, social media conversations, and public sentiment surrounding the crisis. Stay informed about developments, rumors, and emerging issues to inform communication strategies.

Manage Rumors and Misinformation: Address rumors, misinformation, and false narratives promptly and transparently to mitigate confusion, maintain credibility, and protect the organization's reputation. Provide factual information and correct inaccuracies as needed.

Monitor Feedback and Adjust: Continuously monitor feedback, sentiment, and reactions from stakeholders to gauge the effectiveness of communication efforts and identify areas for improvement. Be prepared to adjust strategies and messaging as the crisis evolves.

Conduct Post-Crisis Review: Conduct a thorough post-crisis review to evaluate the organization's response, identify lessons learned, and make recommendations for improvements to crisis communications protocols, training, and preparedness for future incidents.

Conclusion

We’ve seen various successful crisis management examples. As we can see, a significant issue can affect any brand at any time. It’s not always the crisis that is remembered, but how it is handled. Having a crisis communication plan is vital.

These PR crisis management examples need to be observed for their immediacy. Companies usually get worse at responding to crises if they wait too long. A fast response can not only calm the public’s nerves but also save the company a lot of financial or reputational loss. This article hopefully has given you a better understanding of what types of crises companies may face and how they can effectively respond. Learn how to create a crisis management plan.

PRLab can devise a strategy to manage your reputation and handle any PR issues before they arise.

November 18, 2022
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