Who Matters Most During a PR Crisis?

Trying to be everything to everyone is a recipe for disaster. People often have conflicting needs, and individuals—or organizations for that matter—only have so much time and attention.  

Trying to appease everyone is difficult even in the best of times, but in a crisis, not knowing how to prioritize your stakeholders will compound the problems facing your team at an already stressful time. However, before you can start prioritizing stakeholders, you first need to know who they are.

Identifying your organization’s stakeholders

Quite simply, stakeholders are individuals or groups who have a stake in your organization. These can be employees, customers, students, community members or legislators. Really anyone whose opinion and relationship with your organization can have a meaningful impact on its reputation and bottom line.

Identifying all the stakeholders relevant to your organization can be a balancing act. You don’t want to exclude anyone who’s important to your operations, but you also can’t list everyone. Your list of stakeholders needs to be comprehensive enough to account for all those important to your organization, but not too extensive where it’s a list so long you can’t manage all of those relationships effectively.

Prioritizing stakeholders during a crisis

Depending on the nature of the crisis, certain stakeholders might need to be communicated to ahead of others. No two PR crises are the same, and as such, it’s important to recognize that your stakeholder communications strategy may vary from case to case.

For example, if there’s a fire at a manufacturing facility – on-site employees and community members (depending on the severity of the fire) should be notified immediately. Or say a non-profit discovered their chief philanthropy officer was embezzling money donated for a highly public capital campaign – communicating to donors is paramount as this crime egregiously goes against their expectations for how their contributions would be used and managed.

Monitoring stakeholder sentiment during a crisis

There are many responsibilities a PR team needs to account for during a crisis – monitoring for news coverage, social media comments and general concerns and questions are chief among them. Especially if the crisis is a newsworthy one, there’s usually a lot of public chatter about what’s going on. It’s critical to monitor for all of this for two key reasons:

  1. You want to know what questions and concerns different stakeholder groups have so you can adjust your messaging accordingly to answer what you can and set expectations as to when certain details may be available.
  2. You want to see what misinformation is out there. Are news outlets misreporting certain details? Are people erroneously sharing their account on social media that other individuals are subsequently reposting and responding to?

There’s good reason behind the crisis PR adage: communicate early and communicate often. It sets a strong cadence for speaking to stakeholders on what’s actually happening and ensuring they feel heard and communicated to during a difficult time.

Types of crisis PR monitoring services

There are a variety of monitoring services that can automate your crisis monitoring process, ranging from free to (very) expensive.

Broadly speaking, you want to account for news media and social media. Below is a list of services to consider based on your organization’s specific needs.[*]

  • News media monitoring: Google News Alerts, Talkwalker, Muckrack, Cision, Critical Mention, TVEyes, Meltwater
  • Social media monitoring: Sprout Social, Brandwatch, HootSuite, Buffer

A quick word on monitoring services. Nearly two decades into my PR career, I have yet to find a monitoring service that finds everything. Certain ones are great at certain things. It’s best to rely on several as budget allows.


In the most basic terms, a PR crisis is when a stakeholder group’s expectations are misaligned with an organization’s actions. This doesn’t necessarily mean when anyone is upset with your organization. If a person or group is angry with your organization, but they don’t have any substantive influence on your reputation, nor do they carry influence on stakeholders that do, is it really a crisis?

This isn’t to mean an organization should be flippant with a group’s criticism, but PR teams are well served when they have a clear understanding of who matters most to their organization and how those groups must be communicated to during times of crisis.

[*]This list should not be seen as a comprehensive one for all monitoring services, nor does it represent an endorsement of any particular platform.

Greg Surber

Greg Surber, APR, is a public relations strategist through and through. He works on a variety of accounts, leading research projects and content strategies, but he also has extensive experience with more traditional PR efforts including national and trade media relations campaigns.

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