Crisis Communications

Your Sterling Blueprint for Crisis PR

FTC lawsuits, product explosions or recalls, inappropriate executive conduct, accounting irregularities, data breaches, environmental hazards, workplace violence, hostile takeovers — the world is full of unfortunate situations that could derail even the best communications programs. How can companies avoid or mitigate PR disasters, manage media outcries, and (if needed) rebuild their reputations?

In public relations, you never pick your poison — but you can prepare antidotes, keep them at the ready, and take them in a timely fashion. Sterling’s executive leadership works with companies along the entire crisis continuum:

  • Pre-crisis planning/team training — Identifying likely reputational risks and developing crisis management plans designed to mitigate them. Establishing process parameters, securing organizational buy-in, and training team members on the best ways to handle predictable crisis situations.
  • Crisis management — Developing effective crisis communications strategies and implementing a cohesive program for key stakeholders to minimize possible reputational damage.
  • Post-crisis review — Candidly evaluating what worked well and what didn’t, identifying areas for improvement, and putting in place alternate strategies and tactics based on key learnings.

Before we get into the details of a plan that might work for your growing enterprise, let’s examine a few of the many PR crises that Sterling Communications has helped tech clients manage, mitigate, and move ahead from. While we can’t reveal all the details, here are a few scenarios to demonstrate the breadth of our experience here:

Exploding electronics

A video processing system company manufactured a batch of units that overheated and exploded. We worked with the client to quickly remedy the situations where explosions had occurred and also retrofit and/or upgrade systems in the field that could potentially be affected downstream. Result? No media coverage about the situation.

Inappropriate images

A K-12 education-focused SaaS company learned that some images of children texting inappropriately were sent to an IT admin who should not have been able to see/forward the images. Sterling worked with the client to not only address that crisis by working with the affected families, the school administration, the parent board and the school board, but also to create a comprehensive crisis communications plan covering company responses to 12 possible crisis scenarios.

Stock options backdating

A major tech company found itself embroiled in a stock options backdating scandal. Sterling worked with the client and the SEC to demonstrate active cooperation, diffuse the situation, and restore the CEO’s reputation. The CEO (who had not profited personally from the options backdating in any way) retained his position and the company quickly and quietly settled the issue with the SEC and shareholders so it could return to business as usual.

SEC crackdown on ICOs

Serving underbanked populations was always on one client’s radar, but a crackdown on the company’s initial coin offering (ICO) by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) wasn’t on anyone’s screen. Sterling worked with our fintech client to maintain and protect our client’s brand reputation by generating a steady stream of positive media coverage that focused exclusively on their mission and accomplishments.

FTC lawsuit at CES

The Federal Trade Commission sued a global tech company at the very hour it was participating at CES. Whether the case would be settled or taken to court was unknown. A sampling of Sterling team members went to work securing positive coverage and positioning the company as an underdog attacked by the government. The PR team also worked with legal counsel to develop approved responses and prep company spokespeople. Coverage of the case was widespread, but the team minimized the impact by only commenting when required, requesting corrections when needed, and convincing news outlets to remove misleading product images. The FTC dismissed the complaints a few months later.

If you don’t want to leave your company’s crisis communications to chance, talk to our executives about taking a closer look at what you might be facing — and how best to face it down.

Crafting an Effective Crisis Communications Plan

An effective crisis PR plan can greatly reduce (or, ideally, avoid) any damage to your company’s reputation. It helps your organization anticipate and respond to crises in a timely, thoughtful, and effective manner. Every crisis PR plan crafted by Sterling is customized to the client — because no two companies or crises are exactly alike — but here are some of the key elements to consider in your plan:

Crisis plan overview

  • Purpose —Have you defined the rationale of your plan and its intended audience(s)?
  • Scope — What should your plan cover, and not cover, given your other business needs?
  • Assumptions — Which assumptions are needed to move forward rapidly?

Crisis response elements

  • Roles — Who on your team has which responsibilities?
  • Approvals — Who on your team will ultimately approve actions?
  • Delegation — How will you determine where to funnel questions?

Potential anticipated crises

  • Indicators — Which scenarios are most likely to precipitate cascading issues?
  • Triggers — How can certain events turn regular problems into crises?
  • Threats — What threats to your business are most likely to occur?

Communications strategy

  • Outcomes — What are your desired outcome(s) for each crisis type?
  • Messaging — Have you written talking points for each type of audience?
  • Channels — Do you know where most conversations might take place?
  • Assets — Do you have documents, graphics, and other key files easily accessible?
  • Engagement — Do you have tools set to get your messages out in a rush?
  • Timing — When (and how often) can your company update the press and public?


  • Procedures — What protocols must employees follow at the beginning?
  • Verification — Who will gather information and how will it be vetted?
  • Action — Who decides what needs to be done, and who should do it?
  • Training — How will you prepare spokespeople to face the media?
  • Implementation — When does your crisis communications plan launch?
  • Refinement — How (and how often) will you monitor events and update your plans?

Post-crisis communications and recovery

  • Evaluation — Should outside professionals review your responses?
  • Recovery — What types of remediations can you afford to make?
  • Prevention — Have you set annual meetings to update your strategy?

Preparing these key documents can steady your team when a crisis hits

  • Contacts — Ensure your communications team has the best phone numbers for key personnel and stakeholders
  • FAQs — Write down short answers to hard questions that media and other third parties might ask
  • Samples — Game out potential scenarios and develop press release templates and leadership talking points
  • Guidelines — Establish social media rules employees and your comms team can access during a crisis
  • Assets — Gather pre-approved multimedia resources (both yours and from key partners) to ensure tight-knit responses
Raise your brand awareness. Increase your industry influence. Build your thought leadership. Sterling Communications is here for you.

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