5 Tips: How to Select a Crisis Management Consultant

Choose the right crisis management consultant with this advice from an expert

First, what IS a crisis management consultant, at least in the world of PR? Well, the best analogy we’ve ever seen is that of firefighting. If you want to prevent fires, you get a fire inspector to visit. If you want to respond to fires, you also call the Fire Department, the part with all the bells and sirens. So it is with crisis prevention and crisis response – a complete crisis management practice includes consultants expert in both crisis prevention and response.

How do you know you’ve found a crisis management consultant who’s right for you? Ask:

  1. Are they specialists? Is crisis management consulting a mainstay of their business? I’m not saying there isn’t crossover, but traditional PR is QUITE different and requires a set of skills that aren’t in everyone toolkit. Experience with proactive, traditional PR efforts does not necessarily mean a practitioner has the experience or training needed to be crisis management consultants.
  2. What is their pricing model? Crisis management consultants have a variety of pricing models, depending on their size, structure, and a number of other factors. Agencies that have actual office space with “brick and mortar” to support tend to have higher rates and often insist on minimum monthly retainers, while smaller, independent and/or virtual (no office space) agencies can charge less for equally skilled practitioners but may not have the corporate structure preferred by some. While good crisis management consultants are not inexpensive, be certain you’re going to be fully informed as to where your money is going via accurate time tracking practices.
  3. How nimble are they? One quick indication – how quickly do they respond when you first submit an email inquiry or leave a voicemail after hours? Minutes? Hours? The next day? When retained, can they respond to client needs, 24/7, in all the geographic areas of interest to the client? Crisis management isn’t a 9-t0-5 game, and your consultants need to be ready to spring into action when the time comes.
  4. Do they demonstrate an understanding of the full scope of crisis management activities? Some agencies now seem to be so focused on the internet and social media side of communications – which, of course, is critical – that they forget how much messaging still needs to be done in-person, by phone or even by email directly with stakeholders. They also rely on reputation management tools that only measure the impact of reputation online through often-vague sentiment reports and similar, when sometimes the best and fastest to fully understand how your reputation has been impacted is to directly ask your stakeholders.
  5. Do they have references relevant to your needs, to include from some long-term clients? I have actually been surprised at the number of times I’ve heard, from those we consider to be potential crisis management consultants/subcontractors for our agency, that “our clients are confidential, so we can’t give out references.” It’s true that the sensitive legal considerations for many crisis situations do, in fact, preclude giving out a specific client’s contact information, but in our experience there are options – speaking directly to that legal counsel, for example – that should let a crisis management consultant give you some assurance they can walk their talk before you engage.

If you get those answers answered to your satisfaction, you’ll be an important step forward in ensuring you’re not disappointed with your selection of a crisis management consultant.

Jonathan Bernstein
Founder & Chairman