20 Crisis Management Quotes Every PR Team Should Live By

Mandy Bray
Mandy Bray

Published:

Every public relations pro has a few war stories. They come out in hushed tones from time to time, the story about that crisis, how it unfolded, and what it was like to be in the room where decisions were made. When this happens, lean in closer: that’s when you’ll hear the best crisis management quotes and pearls of wisdom.

man with a megaphone represents pr crisis, crisis management quotes

Stick around in PR long enough, and you’ll have scars and stories of your own. Having worked in PR and executive communications for over a decade, I’ve seen my share of crises. An explosion near our corporate office. That customer story went viral. A CEO with a federal investigation.

You can never truly prepare for a crisis before it happens, but planning and preparation go a long way. I’ve compiled some of my favorite quotes and words of wisdom about crisis management to help you weather the storm, whatever it might be.

20 Essential Crisis Management Quotes

We can learn a lot from politicians, CEOs, and PR consultants who have navigated the trenches of crises and learned from mistakes along the way. Here are a few of my personal favorite quotes and insights on weathering a public relations crisis.

“Gaffes can be excused — Americans are a forgiving lot. But it requires an authentic admission, ‘I screwed up’ — and let’s move on,” Lanny J. Davis.

1. Tell it all. Tell it early. Tell it yourself.

“Gaffes can be excused — Americans are a forgiving lot. But it requires an authentic admission, ‘I screwed up’ — and let’s move on,” Lanny J. Davis.

What we like: In his books, “Truth To Tell: Tell It Early, Tell It All, Tell It Yourself” and “Crisis Tales: Five Rules for Coping with Crises in Business, Politics, and Life,” attorney Lanny J. Davis shared his experiences managing crisis communications for the White House during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Davis doesn’t sugarcoat his mistakes and teaches from practical (and highly visible) examples that honesty truly is the best policy.

2. Prepare for real-time communication.

“The real-time news cycle makes it increasingly difficult for you to get ahead of a story before the story is already ahead of you. Successful crisis management depends on your team’s ability to manage these real-time challenges that this digital landscape presents to us while simultaneously managing the actual crisis in real-time,” Melissa Agnes.

What we like: We operate in a world where people post a video to social media before they dial 911. The speed of digital communications can pose a dual crisis: not only must you manage the crisis itself, but the lightning-fast spread of information (and misinformation). Watch author and crisis management expert Melissa Agnesfull TED talk for tips on building stakeholder communications to respond in real time.

3. Be quick, not hasty.

“Be quick, not hasty. When crisis strikes, response times are paramount, but a rushed reply can make matters worse. Preparation beforehand will help your team know how to respond with consideration and get ahead of the situation without looking frazzled or fractured,” Cyndee Harrison.

What we like: Cyndee Harrison, principal at Synaptic, reminds us that speed is important, but a hasty response can cause more harm. No one should respond to a crisis without taking a breath, following their plan, and having a second set of eyes review any statement.

4. Be honest and transparent.

“Always be honest and transparent. It‘s easy to make mistakes, but it’s harder to recover from them if you try to cover up or lie about what happened. People appreciate honesty, and they'll respect you for being willing to admit your mistakes,” Gauri Manglik.

What we like: It’s tempting to overcomplicate an issue or try to justify an ethical grey area during a crisis, but it won’t work. Follow this sage advice from Gauri Manglik, CEO and co-founder of Instrumentl, about being upfront with people when challenges come.

A saying we heard a lot in law school was ‘No response IS a response.’ This means that a lack of response provides an opportunity for the public to fill in the blanks.

5. No response is a response.

“A saying we heard a lot in law school was ‘No response IS a response.’ This means that a lack of response provides an opportunity for the public to fill in the blanks. This can result in exaggerations, conjecture, and assumptions that can be harmful to your business or your client,” Mark Pierce.

What we like: I’ve worked with leaders before who believe in ignoring a crisis until it blows over. By the time they realized they needed to make a statement, the issue had blown out of proportion. This quote from Mark Pierce, senior attorney at LLC Attorney, highlights how ignoring a problem isn’t effective. The public is watching, and by staying silent, you lose the chance to control the narrative.

6. By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.

"By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail,” Benjamin Franklin.

What we like: As a leader or PR pro, it’s your job to imagine the worst-case scenarios. Facing a crisis can be emotional and stressful. That’s where preparation comes in to give you a roadmap to move forward. Having a crisis communications plan I can lean on with a crisis team, decision tree, and media outreach plan has served me well in multiple scenarios.

7. Assemble your team.

“It's crucial to have a small team of leaders who are capable of handling a crisis, in case one arises. Knowing which team member will guide and monitor the crisis, who will manage the response across channels, and who will keep leadership informed allows your company to respond quickly and effectively,” Seth Besse.

What we like: One crucial part of crisis management planning is determining who will play what role in responding to the crisis. This applies both behind the scenes and in the public’s eye your spokesperson. For Seth Besse, CEO of Undivided.io, a capable team is the secret to handling crises with ease. Decide crisis roles and responsibilities long before you’re in the middle of one.

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8. There’s no such thing as one-size-fits-all.

“There‘s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all crisis. In dealing with potential crises, it’s crucial to categorize them according to their possible impact, target audience, and associated stakeholders. The best recommendation I received is to construct a dynamic guide with branching tiers, a structure that allows organizations to better manage varied situations,” Brenda Christensen.

What we like: While planning is key, it’s important to remember that you can’t envision every scenario you might find yourself in. This reminds me of another famous quote by Dwight D. Eisenhower: “Plans are nothing; planning is everything.” Rather than a step-by-step script that could fail, Brenda Christensen, principal at Stellar Public Relations, Inc., recommends a dynamic guide to give organizations a flexible response structure to follow.

9. Apologize, acknowledge, act.

“Follow the three A‘s: Apologize, Acknowledge, Act. Apologize: Apologize for your part in the crisis. If you didn’t have a part in the crisis, or it‘s not the company or person’s fault, empathize with the affected people or victims.

“Acknowledge: Take responsibility for the crisis and own your part in it. Be honest and transparent and acknowledge that the person or company made a mistake.

“Act: Advise on the next steps the person or the company will take to make it right. Share what you'll do in the future so that this never happens again. This assures the public that you have control of the situation and are working to remedy it,” Delia Mendoza.

What we like: I’m always a sucker for alliteration. Delia Mendoza, industry veteran, president, and owner of Delia Mendoza Communications, shares these memorable action steps for a crisis situation.

“Don't be afraid to lead with bad news, but always follow it with a solution,” Dana White.

10. Lead with bad news, but follow with a solution.

Don't be afraid to lead with bad news, but always follow it with a solution,” Dana White.

What we like: Dana White, Senior Managing Director at Ankura, packs some credibility with past roles, including chief communications officer of Hyundai Motor North America and chief pentagon spokesperson for the Department of Defense. Delivering bad news is inevitable, but you should always pair it with a solution or commitment to find the solution.

11. Check your ego at the door.

“Something we learned by experience is that in crisis communications, you have to check your ego at the door. Ego is often what gets people into trouble. In most situations, people genuinely believe that explaining their side is all it takes for people to believe them and listen to them. This is almost never the case. So, don't be impulsive, prepare your talking points, and find the balance between overdoing it and being too restrained,” Dominic Monn.

What we like: Managing crises is as much an individual discipline as it is a corporate one. Dominic Monn, founder and CEO of MentorCruise, reminds us of the importance of checking our own insecurities and impulses as we navigate challenges.

12. There is always another move.

“We are never done, because whatever happens, there is always another move. Whatever happens, we do not give up!” Olivia Pope.

What we like: Fictional fixer Olivia Pope from the show “Scandal” is an icon for many PR pros. Though I can’t endorse all of her tactics, one thing I’ll always admire is her tenacity. Pope never backs down and uses her connections and intellect to find a path forward for her clients when there doesn’t appear to be one.

13. Crisis equals danger plus opportunity.

“The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis.’ One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger — but recognize the opportunity,” John F. Kennedy.

What we like: While most of us focus on returning to the status quo in the aftermath of a crisis, we might miss out if that’s where our vision stops. Alongside the threat posed, a crisis presents an opportunity to show a person or company’s true character while in the limelight. Avoid doing anything that could be perceived as profiting on an emergency, but take a long-term view of how the crisis could weave into your brand story.

14. If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.

“The most important thing to do if you find yourself in a hole is to stop digging,” Warren Buffett.

What we like: Though legendary business mogul Warren Buffett was originally talking about investments with this quote, the principle still applies. Upfront honesty is best, yes. But if you try to deflect blame (which is human nature), it’s never too late to reverse course and correct your wrong. The deeper you go into a cover-up or lie, the bigger a hole you’ll dig for yourself and the harder it will be to climb out of.

It’s PR, not ER. Lives might be on the line during a crisis or emergency situation, and while getting the PR right is important, it’s not typically life-threatening.

15. All you have is your reputation.

“All you have in business is your reputation — so it's very important that you keep your word,” Sir Richard Branson.

What we like: Your reputation dictates your success in business, not the other way around. I’ve always admired Sir Richard Branson as a unique and charismatic leader who’s navigated his share of ups and downs. Though some of his enterprises have failed, he’s built trust as an authentic, trustworthy leader. Follow his advice. Don’t make promises you can’t keep, but deliver on those you can.

16. Never let a crisis go to waste.

“You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that is that it's an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before,” Rahm Emanuel.

What we like: A crisis presents an opportunity not only for a brand to alter its public perception but also for brands and leaders to challenge themselves and grow. Take it from Rahm Emanuel, U.S. ambassador to Japan and former White House chief of staff and mayor of Chicago.

17. Take the higher path.

“In every crisis, doubt or confusion, take the higher path — the path of compassion, courage, understanding, and love,” Sri Amit Ray, Ph.D.

What we like: Amidst your careful calculations of cause and effect in crisis management, it’s easy to lose track of the human element. A win for you may not equal a win for all of your stakeholders. Sri Amit Ray, Ph.D., author of “Nonviolence: The Transforming Power,” reminds us that it takes empathy and compassionate leadership to navigate a crisis.

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18. The worst thing you can do is nothing.

“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing,” Theodore Roosevelt.

What we like: In a crisis situation, it’s important to have a bias towards action. Don’t let yourself be paralyzed with fear or perfectionism, or let others tell your story for you. Take ownership and take action, recognizing that not everything you do will be perfect.

19. The leader sets the tone.

Prepare for storms so when they strike, you can rally your crew with level-headed guidance focused on solutions. Anxiety is contagious as a leader, so project thoughtful confidence paired with a clear direction of the path ahead,” Jason Smit.

What we like: Internal communication is as important as external communication in a crisis, CEO of Contentellect Jason Smit shares. I’ve witnessed this many times in both large and small businesses I’ve worked in. Employees mirror their leaders’ posture and tone — be that defensiveness, fear, or calm.

20. It’s PR, not ER.

“It’s PR, not ER. Lives might be on the line during a crisis or emergency situation, and while getting the PR right is important, it’s not typically life-threatening. It’s going to be OK if the crisis communication isn’t perfect. What’s important is that those in harm's way are cared for, lessons are learned, and the situation and policies improve so that this crisis doesn’t happen again,” Jason Mudd, APR.

What we like: When you’re in the trenches, PR can sometimes feel like life and death. You might have moments where you think your career is over. Thanks to this quote from Jason Mudd, APR, CEO and managing partner at Axia Public Relations, you can breathe a little easier and put everything in perspective — every crisis will pass.

Get Ahead of Any Crisis

No matter what kind of crisis you face, keep a level head and seek counsel from people you trust. Navigating a crisis can feel profoundly isolating, but you aren’t alone. Take insights from these experts who have faced down storms and come through them to tell the tale.

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