The Three Most Important Criteria When Hiring A Crisis Communications Team

By Ronica Cleary

While crisis mitigation has always been a priority for businesses, the urgency has never been greater in light of social media’s ability to fan the flames of a bad headline in ways we could have never imagined even 15 years ago. If you recognize this need, you may be attempting to build a crisis plan for your business and team. Ideally, you’re considering hiring an expert to lead these efforts and, if so, you may be wondering where to start and how to make the final decision. Consider these criteria as the most important when choosing someone to lead your crisis planning efforts.

Have They Covered Crisis As A Journalist? 

When your company or someone on your leadership team is the focal point of a negative story, reporters and journalists will likely be calling, emailing, texting, tweeting, and more to get comments. You want to work with someone who has stood in the shoes of those journalists who are asking the tough questions. Having a former reporter supporting your crisis communications efforts is like a golden ticket to effectively navigating the groundswell of press requests you will receive. Covering breaking and controversial news as a journalist is not something you can just read about and then understand. You have to live it and breathe it to fully appreciate the intensity with which journalists salivate for the best headline, the most shocking soundbite, and the embarrassing misstep you are working so hard to avoid. If your crisis communications team doesn’t have someone on it who has been on the other side of the microphone asking the questions and dictating the coverage that a negative headline receives, you aren’t ever going to be fully prepared for those moments when you are on the receiving end of it all. 

They Should Understand Your Industry, But Be Removed From Your Organization 

It is a mistake to have your crisis team solely in house. The value of an outsider to provide insight and perspective is unmatched. Of course, those who work day to day in your organization will understand certain elements of nuance and detail that an outsider can never fully appreciate, so having a select team within the organization to support crisis efforts is crucial. But you will be remiss if you do not retain the support of an outsider who can give the type of feedback that only an outsider can - a true understanding of how your organization, leadership, and the crisis at hand are being viewed in the public eye. Of course, this person should be well versed in your organization’s infrastructure, industry, and scope - but being on the outside will allow this person to provide insight and guidance that comes from a place that isn’t blinded by the daily workings of the company. 

Do You Like, Trust, & Respect Them? 

In many instances, you don’t have to like the people you hire to get quality work and performance delivered. In the case of navigating a crisis, it is essential to have a level of respect and affection for the team you bring in to support your efforts. When a crisis hits, it will be stressful, possibly embarrassing, and potentially career ending. If you don’t surround yourself with people you trust and admire, you will be going through this incredibly difficult time even more alone than you may already feel. A level of respect, admiration, and comradery are essential for you and your crisis team to be successful.

What’s Next?

This should go without saying, but it needs to be said because so many ignore this step - build your crisis team and plan when you aren’t in crisis. While we can never anticipate every possible scenario and crisis that may come to light, you can put a team in place and prepare for many likely scenarios when things are quiet. When the bad headlines strike, you’ll know who to turn to and have key messaging in place to at least guide the way as you unpack whatever new details come to light. 

Ronica Cleary launched Cleary Strategies to provide public relations, media placements, & crisis management to leaders and corporations. Prior to launching Cleary Strategies, Ronica had a successful career in television journalism where she worked most recently as a White House Correspondent for Fox 5 in Washington, DC, and hosted a Sunday morning political talk show, “Fox 5 On The Hill.” Understanding the media from multiple angles - both as a journalist and now as a publicist - gives Ronica a unique perspective on the industry as a whole. Learn more about Cleary Strategies at www.ClearyStrategies.com and follow Ronica on Twitter https://twitter.com/RonicaCleary

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.