5 Steps for Navigating the First Hour of a Crisis

group of women having a meeting in an office and looking angry and disappointed

By Monique Farmer, APR

The world we live in is unpredictable, to say the least. And the world you and I work in — the public relations world — can be just as volatile. Crises are inevitable. Often, it’s not a matter of if, but when.

Whether it’s a hiccup in the supply chain, a service disruption, legal challenges, product recalls or the fallout from a natural disaster, these situations test the resilience of the organizations we support and our preparedness as PR leaders is crucial.

At the heart of managing these crises is the concept of the Golden Hour — the critical period of time immediately following a crisis when the actions we take directly influence the outcome.

What we do (or fail to do) in that hour can mean the difference between an organization’s reputation and public trust being lost or successfully maintained and even strengthened.

Of course, in a digital age, that Golden Hour won’t always last 60 minutes, given how swiftly news can spread across social media. An even smaller window of time underscores the need for us to do as much preplanning as possible so we can effectively mitigate risks and take control of our narrative when the time comes.

As you work to plan for what you’ll do before the Golden Hour strikes, as well as how you’ll hit the ground running when the crucial moment arrives, here is one vital action to take right now, as well as four important steps to take as soon as a crisis occurs to ensure a successful outcome.

Before a crisis occurs

Choose Your Team. The last thing you want to be doing when a crisis strikes is scrambling to assemble a response team. Instead, choose your crisis communication and crisis management teams now, designating strong leadership and a competent primary spokesperson.

Discuss individual roles and responsibilities and run through potential crisis scenarios, determining how you’ll mobilize and collaborate with extreme efficiency. Now is also the right time to coach your team on how to identify a crisis right away, allowing for maximum response time.


As soon as a crisis occurs

Step 1: Ensure safety. If the crisis involves a safety issue, then prioritize the well-being of everyone involved. This means contacting emergency services and alerting the authorities immediately. Your initial focus should be on controlling the situation to prevent further harm to people and property.

Step 2: Establish a command center. Gather the team you assembled and set up a central point of coordination, or a command center, from where you can manage all aspects of the crisis. This could be a physical space or a virtual command center — a secure online portal where team members can engage in ongoing dialogue, reference response protocols, craft a statement and more. Having a central hub is crucial for effective communication, decision-making and strategy deployment, ensuring that all team members are on the same page.

Step 3: Craft a holding statement. Prepare a holding statement in anticipation of media inquiries. This statement should be crafted in collaboration with legal counsel and organizational leadership. It’s a crucial tool for managing initial communications, providing a carefully constructed response that acknowledges the situation while you gather more details. This step will help you maintain credibility and control over the narrative.

Step 4: Communicate internally. Before sharing your public statement with media outlets, it’s important to first inform your internal team about the crisis and your organization’s plan moving forward. Internal stakeholders, from your employees to board members, are your primary audience and deserve to hear about the situation directly from the organization.

This approach fosters transparency, provides access to necessary resources, reassures your team about open lines of communication and strengthens internal solidarity before facing the external world.

Going forward

The Golden Hour presents a pivotal opportunity for you and your team to positively shape the outcome of a crisis. It demands swift action, strategic thinking and cohesive teamwork. By adhering to these critical steps during the Golden Hour, you’ll position your organization as united and prepared, laying a solid foundation for transparent and confident communication with employees, stakeholders and the media.

The key is preparation: Choose your crisis management team in advance and develop a comprehensive plan for navigating crises. This proactive approach ensures that when the time comes, you’re ready to act decisively and effectively, turning potential disasters into manageable situations and an opportunity to learn and make improvements in the future.


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