PR Insight: If You Fail to Plan, You Plan to Fail

illustration of pink megaphone blasting loud communication on a yellow background
By Samantha Hall

3 minutes

3 steps for preparing communication during a crisis

Benjamin Franklin once said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” While he probably wasn’t referring to a public relations crisis, this mentality can surely be applied to PR. Planning can make the difference between quickly stomping out a fire or going up in flames.

You can never hope to predict every PR blunder—wouldn’t crises be easier if you could?—but there are a few things credit unions can do to make the inevitable less damaging and less stressful.

1. Take a Look at the Past

Crises typically occur without warning and can often have long-lasting effects. How the crisis is handled can negatively or positively affect your organization’s reputation. Credit unions can better prepare for this by looking at the past—both at crises they’ve previously dealt with and those other credit unions have faced.

To quote another wise individual, Winston Churchill, “Those who fail to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.” So take time to reflect on how those other crises were handled: What can you learn from a successfully resolved crisis? What can you learn from the mistakes? What approach should you take if you’re handed a similar disaster?

Review how the crisis was communicated and what exactly was communicated. For instance, did the credit union issue a generic statement that received backlash due to a lack of authenticity? Don’t repeat that. Instead, maybe a heartfelt apology directly from a key executive was needed to lessen the blow. Or maybe the credit union jumped the gun and communicated details that resulted in more trouble. The lesson here is to get all your facts straight before speaking.

2. Know Your Credit Union’s Mission

Learning from the past is great, but don’t forget your credit union’s mission statement. This is key and should be incorporated into your messaging. Doing so not only helps communicate your values to key audiences, but it also helps create a more authentic tone.

Using the earlier example, a generic statement may be quickly criticized, but adding a touch of your credit union’s uniqueness to the communication can go a long way to minimize damage to your reputation.

3. Plan for Common Crises

Credit unions should plan for “typical” crises, such as cybersecurity issues or data breaches. These types of disasters are becoming increasingly common; therefore, preparation is critical. Consider having a generic “frequently asked questions” section on your website or printed materials. While such an FAQ may only be half-baked, it can serve as a quick guide for what information can and should be communicated. Your PR team can then quickly fill in the blanks during a crisis and react with speed.

Along the same lines, have employee and member communication mocked up. You should not rely on templated memos, but an prepared outline can certainly help once the full details are exposed.

What if communication should be handled through a televised press conference? Your key spokespeople need to be ready. Again, you can never predict every crisis, but your spokesperson should be comfortable and well-spoken—and this comes with practice and training.

Communication is only part of crisis preparedness, but it’s a big part. Moreover, it is something that can be started before an actual crisis occurs and then fine-tuned once disaster strikes. By evaluating the past, understanding your credit union’s mission and considering common issues that may arise, you will be better equipped when the inevitable happens to avoid serious reputational damage as well as minimize much stress from your team.

Samantha Hall is an account associate at William Mills Agency, the nation's largest independent public relations firm focusing exclusively on the financial services and technology industries. The agency can be followed on Twitter @wmagency, Facebook, LinkedIn or its blog.

For more resources related to crisis response, particularly pandemics and COVID-19, visit this page on, or visit our Coronavirus Update page on

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