By William Comcowich

Most people associate crisis communications with large corporations and politicians, but a PR crisis can also endanger a start-up’s future before it even gets off the ground. Some well-known start-ups and early-stage ventures, including Uber, Airbnb and Slack, encountered PR crises but managed to overcome the difficulties.

Since small businesses usually lack the resources to afford the huge cost of PR agencies and in-house crisis communications staff, here’s how your staff could prepare ahead of a crisis.

1. Create a crisis communication plan

In many ways, start-ups follow the same steps when preparing for a PR crisis. Developing a well-documented, comprehensive crisis management plan is the essential first step. A quality PR crisis plan names who will represent the business and speak to the media, who will be involved in key decisions and who will have ultimate authority over decisions.

2. Identify potential issues

Look at existing companies that are similar to your own, says Erin Rohr, director of marketing communications at Metis Communications. Chances are that other startups have experienced a data breach, layoffs, a product failure or other type of problem.

Examining these instances can reveal the angles reporters take or questions they ask. Also assess which messages resonated positively and negatively with the public to help you form your own stance.

3. Examine your infrastructure. Devise a plan for any company systems or functions that might fail in the event of negative media attention. Assure your website can handle a large surge of traffic of over 100,000, advises the PR agency Pressfarm.

If your website goes down during a crisis, your business will be in jeopardy. Customers won’t have access to services they have paid for, and you might have a crisis within a crisis.

4. Prepare content

Prepare holding statements that the start-up can immediately release with few changes. Such statements typically affirm the company’s policies regarding the issue, apologize if needed, and promise an immediate investigation. 

5. Monitor the media – digital + traditional

Media monitoring provides essential information before, during and after a crisis. A media monitoring and measurement service can alert the start-up or small business about an emerging crisis by reporting a spike in negative comments and contents.

Continually monitor your brand names for news and social media comments. Agree on who’s in charge of monitoring social media, which platforms they are monitoring, what they are listening for, how often they review results, and to whom they report their findings.

6. Treat employees well

Companies known for treating employees well fare better during a crisis. If consumers believe companies mistreat employees, they are more likely to criticize the organization on social media and boycott their products.

7. Act quickly

The first 48 hours of a crisis are the most critical. So, when a PR crisis does strike, issue a press statement as soon as possible. “This is the fundamental rule of any crisis management; any delay in sending the public statement can have disastrous consequences,” says PR crisis communications expert Dev Dave, head of marketing at

One more thought…

Define the issue. Not all negative news reports or negative social media comments call for a full-blown PR crisis response. Sometimes a company should hold its ground following negative outbursts on social media. Sometimes an apology is in order. Some news stories only require that you acknowledge the problem and state that you want to solve it.

As simple as that sounds.

Bottom Line

Like large corporations, start-ups can also encounter a PR crisis. A crisis can be particularly debilitating to a start-up that’s just beginning to form a reputation. Although start-ups typically lack the resources of large corporations, they can still create a plan that helps them survive a crisis.

This article first appeared on

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