Crisis PR-A Five W Approach for Small Business

The recent scandals involving Herman Cain and Penn State remind us that when you think you’ve seen everything, you haven’t seen anything yet. However, these national stories again contain lessons for small businesses.

I have written before about the impact large examples nationally can have for entrepreneurs at a local level. In fact, the relative effects of a small business “scandal” can have their own profound local repercussions.

Let me emphasize first that I recommend professional assistance for small businesses in creating a crisis PR plan. But, if you use a familiar concept such as the Five W’s, small business owners can begin to think about the unthinkable.

Don't wait for the train by just sitting on the tracks.

WHO – In crisis, the public representative for a business must be clearly identified. Depending on the type of business, a company specialist is also acceptable. These should be the ONLY people who speak in a crisis scenario. Have a Plan B should the key people be incapacitated or are the target of the crisis. This messenger should be decisive, contrite and calm.

WHAT – The key contacts should work collectively to create the message that will be delivered. Make the goal(s) of the information simple. Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know something. If you set a timeline for more communication, stick to it. Most importantly, if the crisis involves harm or loss of life, make sure your comments are about the crisis first and not about you or the company.

WHEN – The crisis is not the time or place to form the plan…it can lead to major missteps which make you a “Trending Topic” nationally. Events usually change so quickly that by the time you have responded, the crisis has taken a new twist and the delay has allowed others to deliver your message.

WHERE – Your plan should be portable. This isn’t time for a Power Point presentation. If the crisis has occurred in another location, be on the scene and show that you care about the crisis first. Who, What and When is the substance regardless of the setting.

WHY – The court of public opinion happens in real-time. Even if the first steps are to convey your sympathy and understanding of the crisis, you are already ahead. If others deliver a message better than you, anything you say or do will pale in comparison.

As with more mundane entrepreneurial issues of marketing, advertising, overall business planning, etc., a professional crisis public relations strategy is viewed as a luxury that is unattainable for small businesses. But, through a framework such as the Five W’s, it can help you plan, and find a partner to prepare, for another W – the Worst.

Glenn Kass and Catch Driver Marketing knows that sometimes a plan just needs a driver. Let him help get “Your Ideas…On Track!” Visit for more info. You can also find Catch Driver on Facebook ( and Twitter (@CatchDriverMktg).

About catchdrivermarketing

Catch Driver provides marketing and communications services/consultation for small to medium size businesses and non-profits. The "Your Ideas...On Track" slogan means helping organizations and business owners with projects they want to do, but lack staff and time to execute themselves, and working to drive them to a successful outcome. See more at
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