In parts 1 and 2 of this series, we looked at why crisis communications is important and how to prepare before the storm. In part 3, we'll take a closer look at how to respond to a crisis through your public relations efforts.

With a plan in place, you are prepared to quickly respond to the storm. PR pros say your immediate response should include the following: gathering facts, alerting and deploying the crisis response team, acknowledging the situation with 24 hours, cooperating with the media, assessing legal liability, reaching out to target audiences, and monitoring media coverage.

You will have several potential audiences to consider, including the victim, if any, the media, your employees and their families, clients, and other stakeholders.

It is very important to communicate with both your employees and your customers during a crisis. Not responding to a media inquiry during a crisis is almost an admission of guilt. About 30 minutes before new information was released to the media during the bankruptcy proceeding we gave all personnel directions on how to handle phone calls, who to transfer media questions to, and how to respond appropriately if they were caught off-guard with a question.

At the same tie, you want to avoid a knee-jerk reaction to a crisis situation. Stop to take a couple of deep breaths, gather your thoughts, and refer to that crisis communications plan that you should have drafted six months ago. The goal is to prevent employees from being forced to deal with the media.

Indeed, many times employees are not equipped to deal with those kinds of pressures from the media. Employees should tell the media that comments have to come from their supervisors or someone from the home office. Unfortunately that doesn’t always cut it. It is real important that you’re careful with what you say to news reporters, and most importantly to be honest and if you don’t know, you don’t know.