May 9, 2024 - Business

How PR agencies play during a crisis

The bar chart shows the stages at which point communication professionals are most often looped into major PR crises, based on a survey of 1,000 adults working full time in the industry. 41% said they are looped in when the client knows they need to develop a plan, followed by 27% who are involved once a plan is in place, and 23% who are alerted when a crisis is unfolding. Only 9% are brought in after the plan is executed.
Data: Memo; Chart: Axios Visuals

Agency partners are being tapped less for developing a crisis plan and more for executing the response, per Memo's crisis index report.

By the numbers: In 2023, 76% of agencies were being brought in as a crisis started and in the response planning period, compared to 64% this year.

  • Meanwhile, 36% were brought in simply to execute a strategy — up from 24% in 2023.

Zoom in: When agencies are brought in to advise on a crisis, a majority say they are most effective at developing and executing a media strategy. However, in-house pros say that's where their agency is the least effective.

  • Compiling research, reporting metrics and advising on a plan is where agencies are most supportive, per the report.

Yes, but: AI-powered tools now allow for in-house folks to quickly conduct research, monitor coverage and compile status reports.

  • This means outside communications consultants could have to do more to help clients see beyond the crisis and play the long game.

What they're saying: "When it comes to crisis response, there's a lot of tactical sophistication and strategic ignorance," says Miller.

  • "Fancy tools that gather sentiment analysis or social listening might help you get from A to B, but the greatest value [we] can provide is helping clients play chess and better understand how move A will impact move D or E. Sometimes we're trying to be so tactically sophisticated that we lose sight of the impact on the long term."

The bottom line: AI tools should enable all communicators to quickly capture and monitor data — meaning agencies should level up their strategic counsel and lean on institutional knowledge.

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