Product recalls, scandals involving members of management, revelations about employee maltreatment – that’s the stuff of PR executives’ nightmares. The newly published ‘PR Trend Monitor’ by dpa subsidiary News Aktuell asked more than 500 PR Professionals which of the causes for a communication crisis they fear most and what should be avoided in handling a PR crisis.

According to the survey results, nearly two-thirds of PR professionals believe that trying to hide mistakes will most likely backfire. One in three respondents particularly fears crises due to the failure or a personal misconduct of the executives. Prosecutorial investigations are among the top crisis topics for one in four PR experts (26 percent), followed by social media shitstorms (24 percent).

Every fifth communications professional (22 percent each) fears the negative effects of defective products or false reports. Communication crises triggered by poor service and poor working conditions also cause concern among the respondents and occupy the last places of the crises Top 10.

Top 10 PR crisis triggers

1. Trying to conceal mistakes (63%)
2. Failures of top management (30%)
3. Personal misconduct of top management (29%)
4. Prosecutorial investigations (26%)
5. Social media shitstorm (24%)
6. Defective products (22%)
7. False reports (22%)
8. Compliance issues (19%)
9. Poor service (12%)
10. Poor working conditions (11%)

Not all crises can be avoided. Whether faced with a management mistake or an unexpected product failure –  the triggers for potential crisis situations often hit public relations teams without prior warning. Therefore it is all the more important for companies to agree on a general strategy for dealing with crises in regards to the communication. In case of an emergency, PR teams can then react much faster and more effectively, instead of having to tackle the entire coordination and approval process for crisis communication.

In-house PR services should have crisis management knowledge built-in, ideally. But in all honesty, nothing beats the public relations firms specialised in crisis communications, as they usually develop time-tested strategies and tactics to manage crises better than most organisations.