A public relations crisis is like a judge’s comment on pornography: You can’t define it, but you know it when you see it.
Unfortunately for many nonprofits caught in one crisis or another, managers might not know when they are in until they are deep in one. There might have been warning signs, but they were overlooked or ignored.
Speaking during the 2013 Risk Summit, Shaun Adamec of the Nellie Mae Education Foundation said that when a genuine public relations crisis arises, one or more of the following crisis catalysts are almost always present:
- Choice. The audience has a perception of having been left out of a key decision or of decisions made without including key stakeholders.
- Credibility. The severity of audience reaction increases when the subject of a crisis is perceived to be untrustworthy.
- Duration. The time that a crisis lasts negatively impacts the severity of the crisis.
- Exposure. The greater the media frenzy, the more unpredictable the crisis becomes.
- Fear. Certain hazards or risks will generate more severe reactions based on fear.
- Immorality. The potential for outrage is multiplied when the organization appears to have been unethical or immoral.
- Injustice. If some have risks imposed on them while others share the benefits, the end result could be public outrage.
- Knowledge. If an audience is unfamiliar with the problem or is being fed only part of the story, that audience is more likely to overreact.
- Victim. Outrage increases if the perceived victims are vulnerable.