Calm in the Storm: Five Tips to Stay Cool in Crisis Communications
By the nature of our jobs, health care public relations agencies are often called on to provide communications counsel and identify how to act during a crisis. We’re also expected to remain calm under pressure. But that isn’t easy – especially when a client may be panicking and reporters on deadline are calling to demand comment, and your job is to calmly navigate all the internal and external responses to an emergency.
So, when the heat turns up, it’s vital that we’ve got our own strategies for staying cool under the collar. Here are my tips for building credibility and elevating reputations during a time of crisis:
Having a strategy is one of the absolute best ways to keep even-tempered, so that when others are pressuring you or creating a fuss, you can simply point to the procedures in place to address the problem. Besides, it helps to remind yourself that you’ve already thought this through. Going back to your plan lets you stop spinning and start leading.
But it isn’t always clear what that next move should be. In those cases, you could “phone a friend.” Perhaps you know someone in your office who always has great advice for any situation. Or you could reach out to colleagues in the industry to ask how they might handle this predicament. And never forget, you’ve got a team at your back—call a meeting, explain the challenge at hand, and brainstorm. Even as the PR expert, you aren’t going to have all the answers. But you don’t need to, as long as you can figure out how to get unstuck. Sometimes the simple act of picking up the phone or sending that email will get the ball rolling.
My recently discovered activities include standing yoga, a short meditation, and the tried-and-true walk around the block. A quick journaling session or deep breathing could work too. My personal favorite is to close the door, shut the blinds, turn up a favorite song, and pretend it’s karaoke time. I’ll wager that after three minutes of singing your heart out, things will feel different. Those few minutes taking a mental break will reap a serious reward. In fact, my guess is that if you need a reset and you don’t take the time, then you’ll just waste those same minutes in a tailspin.
But if that’s not enough and it all feels overwhelming, revisit a previous time you’ve tackled something unknown and remind yourself how you felt when you accomplished a frightening task that had seemed insurmountable. Consider, too, what lesson or action you can implement from situations you’ve handled in the past. Recall those successes to build your future. You’ve done hard things before—things you weren’t sure you could do—and come out on the other side. Now go into this crisis with those experiences at your back.
If you’re like me, you might struggle when things don’t go “as they should.” But my favorite trick is to bake flexibility into every project. Remind yourself that flexibility is a core element of any PR strategy. Things are going to shift on you, and you’re going to have to adjust. So, when things don’t go as expected, I get the joy of reminding myself that, actually things are going exactly as planned and now is the chance to implement the part of the plan where things change.
When a PR crisis hits, it’s easy to allow ourselves to get caught up in the storm. Stressful situations can always get the best of us. But we also need to be forward-thinking and anticipate staying calm under pressure. With a little conscious effort, we can be our best professional selves and do the best work for our clients and teams.