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What’s the Difference Between a Public Relations Firm and a Crisis Communications Firm?

From Stephanie York, JD and VP of Hennes Communications:

From Wikipedia:

Public relations (PR) is the practice of deliberately managing the spread of information between an individual or an organization (such as a business, government agency, or a nonprofit organization) and the public.  Public relations may include an organization or individual gaining exposure to their audiences using topics of public interest and news items that do not require direct payment.  This differentiates it from advertising as a form of marketing communications.  Public relations is the idea of creating coverage for clients for free, rather than marketing or advertising.  The aim of public relations is to inform the public, prospective customers, investors, partners, employees and other stakeholders and ultimately persuade them to maintain a positive or favorable view about the organization, its leadership, products, or political decisions.

Crisis communications is a sub-specialty of the public relations profession that is designed to protect and defend an individual, company, or organization facing a public challenge to its reputation.  The communications scholar Timothy Coombs defines crisis as “the perception of an unpredictable event that threatens important expectancies of stakeholders and can seriously impact an organization’s performance and generate negative outcomes” and crisis communications as “the collection, processing and dissemination of information required to address a crisis situation.”

While some PR firms offer crisis management/communications as part of their services, the practice of public relations is quite different from the practice of crisis communications.  At Hennes Communications, we concentrate on providing crisis management/communications.

So, when do you hire a public relations firm and when should you seek out a crisis management/communications firm?  It depends on your goals.

A public relations firm is typically hired to evaluate an organization, find the positive messages within the organization and turn those messages into positive stories.  Those positive stories are then used to educate the organization’s customers and potential customers with the goal of selling more products and services and increasing the organization’s overall market share.  Simply, a public relations firm is hired to bring more attention to the organization’s brand.

Well, let me tell you – if you’re in the middle of a crisis, more attention is usually the LAST thing you want.

And the methodologies we use at Hennes are often counterintuitive to the traditional practice of public relations.  As we often say, it’s our job to make your story better, to make your story shorter — and to make your story go away.  And we do that using specific strategies that we’ve successfully utilized for hundreds of clients over the last 30 years.

Without a doubt – there’s definitely a need for PR firms and the services they provide.  But if you’re facing a real crisis situation, or preparing for one, you’ll be better-served using a firm with that specialty.


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