A PR crisis impacts the reputation of a brand. How the brand responds also determines the impact of the crisis.

Crisis can be of many types, but what is common is that it poses a threat to the positive reputation of a brand. 

Crisis PR insulates a brand from negative consequences. A crisis can lead to a loss in market share, lawsuits, and financial loss.

The line between success and failure

The line between success and failure is so thin for most businesses that any PR crisis can be fatal.

How companies recover from a PR crisis will depend on the response rate of their PR teams.

Each business should have a crisis management plan that should be updated annually.

This will make a crisis surmountable. The plan should identify potential risks and define communication guidelines.

The crisis management plan should address the 5 W’s

a) Who will be the spokesperson of the organization

b) What will their message be

c) When will they speak to the public

d) Why would they speak

e) Where would they address the public

The crisis management team should be properly trained and some key messages should be pre-drafted.

Reputational Damage

With the pandemic upon us, some companies had to adopt tough measures so that they stay afloat.

This might have led them to suffer reputational damage. No business should ignore the cost of reputational damage, as it would affect stock price and cut down on market capitalization.

It might also impact employee retention as the company might find it difficult to recruit new talent. This means that every business should prioritize managing reputational risk effectively.

The PR Crisis of United Airlines

In 2017, a passenger of United Airlines was  filmed being removed from his seat and dragged down an aircraft’s aisle as the aircraft was overbooked.

The video of the incident went viral on social media and the CEO’s  apology became a trending topic on Twitter as it seemed unfeeling.

Yet another apology was issued a day later but it did little to quell the anger of the audience.

After the PR crisis, the readiness of customers to buy flight tickets from United went down from 68 % before the crisis, to 42 % after it.

‘Six months after the crisis, 30 percent of the customers stated that they would still not purchase tickets from the airlines as they felt that the airlines did not feel safe anymore.

The company struggled to contain the fallout for quite some time. The day after the video was released, their stock fell by about 4%.

The lesson learned from this PR disaster is that the company should have exhibited compassion and tried to make things right.

This could have been an opportunity to show that they cared, instead they made the crisis worse. Airlines do overbook, expecting customers to cancel.

This painful customer experience did not go down well with the audience. This was preventable. No one should have boarded the flight if it was overbooked.


Ronn Torossian is the Founder & Chairman of 5W Public Relations, one of the largest independently-owned PR firms in the United States.

With over 20 years of experience crafting and executing powerful narratives, Torossian is one of America’s most prolific and well-respected Public Relations professionals.

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Ronn Torossian is the founder and CEO of 5W Public Relations, one of the largest independently-owned PR firms in the United States. With over 20 years of experience crafting and executing powerful narratives, Torossian is one of America's most prolific and well-respected Public Relations professionals. Since founding 5WPR in 2003, he has led the company's growth, overseeing more than 175 professionals in the company's headquarters in midtown Manhattan. With clients spanning corporate, technology, consumer and crisis, in addition to digital marketing and public affairs capabilities, 5WPR is regularly recognized as an industry leader and has been named "PR Agency of the Year" by the American Business Awards on multiple occasions. Throughout his career, Torossian has worked with some of the world's most visible companies, brands and organizations. His strategic, resourceful approach has been recognized with numerous awards including being named the Stevie American Business Awards 2020 Entrepreneur of the Year, the American Business Awards PR Executive of the Year, twice over, an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year semi-finalist, Metropolitan Magazine's Most Influential New Yorker, and a 2020 Top Crisis Communications Professional by Business Insider. Torossian is known as one of the country's foremost experts on crisis communications, and is called on to counsel blue chip companies, top business executives and entrepreneurs both in the United States and worldwide. Torossian has lectured on crisis PR at Harvard Business School, appears regularly on CNN & CNBC, was named to PR Week's "40 under Forty" list, is a contributing columnist for Forbes and the New York Observer, and his book, "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results With Game-Changing Public Relations" is an industry best-seller. A NYC native, Torossian lives in Manhattan with his children. He is a member of Young Presidents Organization (YPO), and active in numerous charities.