Communicating in Crisis


Communicating Projects – The Series

By Ann Pilkington

The PR Academy

United Kingdom


Getting communication right in a crisis matters.

History is littered with examples of never-recovered share prices and products.

Andrew Griffin in his book on crisis management quotes a senior executive at Total, the French energy giant praised for its handling of a gas leak in 2012: “to take care of reputation, you have to take care of people …. first.” Organisations dealing with crises should view at all times what is happening through the lens of the victims.

Chris Tucker who delivers courses in crisis communication management blogged some time ago about how in a crisis, it’s important to work with, and learn to love, the lawyers:

“In a crisis the obvious instinct of a lawyer is to minimise the chance of any prosecution and any future compensation claims. That usually means telling the organisation to minimise any public statements. So there is an obvious clash with the classic PR crisis management principle of tell it all, tell it fast and tell the truth. The standard legal advice is relatively short-term when compared to the longer term view of reputation management taken by the PR professional.

“Make having a good relationship with the legal department a top priority before the crisis hits.”

Projects contain risk, we all learn on our project management courses, and the management of risk is something that project managers excel at. However, as a communicator coming into the project world, a big thing for me is that the identification of risk is often about risk to the project; there isn’t always enough attention paid to potential risks to the wider organisation’s reputation.

This is why it matters to have a communicator involved in risk identification, because he or she will have the reputation of the organisation in mind and may be sighted on issues elsewhere that could combine to make the perfect storm of a crisis.


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Editor’s note: This series of articles on effective project communications is by Ann Pilkington, founding director of the PR Academy (UK) and author of the book Communicating Projects published by Gower in 2013. Ann is one of the UK’s leading experts on communications; she shares her knowledge with project managers and teams around the world in this series in the PM World Journal.


About the Author

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Ann Pilkington

United Kingdom


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Ann Pilkington
is the author of Communicating Projects published by Gower in 2013. She is a founding director of the PR Academy which provides qualifications, training and consultancy in all aspects of communication including change project communication and project management.

Information about Ann’s book, Communicating Projects, An End-to-End Guide to Planning, Implementing and Evaluating Effective Communication, can be found at http://www.gowerpublishing.com/isbn/9781409453192.

Ann can be contacted at [email protected]

To see previous articles by Ann Pilkington, visit her author showcase in the PM World Library at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/ann-pilkington/